Factors Affecting Speech Discrimination in Children with Cochlear Implants: Evidence from Early-Implanted Infants
06 August 2020 (online)
Background: To learn words and acquire language, children must be able to discriminate and correctly perceive phonemes. Although there has been much research on the general language outcomes of children with cochlear implants (CIs), little is known about the development of speech perception with regard to specific speech processes, such as speech discrimination.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to investigate the development of speech discrimination in infants with CIs and identify factors that might correlate with speech discrimination skills.
Research Design: Using a Hybrid Visual Habituation procedure, we tested infants with CIs on their ability to discriminate the vowel contrast /i/-/u/. We also gathered demographic and audiological information about each infant.
Study Sample: Children who had received CIs before 2 yr of age served as participants. We tested the children at two post cochlear implantation intervals: 2–4 weeks post CI stimulation (N = 17) and 6–9 mo post CI stimulation (N = 10).
Data Collection and Analysis: The infants’ mean looking times during the novel versus old trials of the experiment were measured. A linear regression model was used to evaluate the relationship between the normalized looking time difference and the following variables: chronological age, age at CI stimulation, gender, communication mode, and best unaided pure-tone average.
Results: We found that the best unaided pure-tone average predicted speech discrimination at the early interval. In contrast to some previous speech perception studies that included children implanted before 3 yr of age, age at CI stimulation did not predict speech discrimination performance.
Conclusions: The results suggest that residual acoustic hearing before implantation might facilitate speech discrimination during the early period post cochlear implantation; with more hearing experience, communication mode might have a greater influence on the ability to discriminate speech. This and other studies on age at cochlear implantation suggest that earlier implantation might not have as large an effect on speech perception as it does on other language skills.