How Infants With Cochlear Implants Learn Differently
Starting at conception, your genes lay out a neural map for the nervous system: your cells multiply and migrate to form the primitive beginnings of your brain. Much of what happens during this time is co-determined by your environment, which in turn is determined by that of the mother. Sometimes, this interplay, or even purely genetic factors, can result in congenital deafness. Upon birth, a baby who can hear nothing has no audio input traveling to the brain. But once out of the womb, neural development keeps going at a rapid pace, and your brain continues to shape itself. For deaf infants, this means it develops without any sound, likely facilitating the encroachment of other functioning areas upon the cortex traditionally reserved for auditory processing.
An interesting question is what this type of plasticity (the ability for the brain to change and adapt) means for language learning in children given cochlear implants. An Ohio State University Research team attempted to tease apart this issue by observing parent interactions with congenitally deaf children using cochlear implants. The parents presented new toys with unique names to the children and the researchers recorded the entire interaction at different angles and with eye trackers to see what strongly draws the child’s attention.
The official results have not yet been revealed, but there is hope that more studies such as this will help reveal why children with cochlear implants, even with implants from a very young age, have language delays and appear to learn language differently. In the video accompanying the study description, parents of one subject describe how narrating daily activities to their son has made a world of difference in their communication, a tip they learned from participating in the experiment. However, it’s possible that this has to with simply exposing the child to more language, or maybe even his developmental stage.
Once the results of this study, and others like it, are published, parents will hopefully be able to bridge the gap between themselves and their deaf children, better understanding the differences between being born with hearing and born without it.