Parents of deaf babies are often encouraged to have them undergo cochlear implant surgery to prevent cognitive delays. Researchers have shown that it is early exposure to language, not sound, that contributes to normal brain development. The results of the study were published in the journal ‘Child Development’.
“We find that early exposure to language, whether signed or spoken, promotes the development of typical cognitive skills,” said Corina Goodwin, psycholinguist at UConn. The discovery may seem obvious to most people, but has been controversial in the scientific community.
Deaf children born to hearing parents often have developmental delays. Research has convincingly linked such delays to inadequate language exposure early in life, so pediatricians and audiologists often push parents to surgically implant hearing technology in deaf babies. But this approach assumes that sound equals language. It is based on research that only looks at deaf children raised in families that only use the spoken language. Almost none studies the cognitive development of deaf children raised with sign language.
UConn researchers changed that. They recruited 123 children between the ages of three and seven. There were 46 children with typical hearing, and 77 were deaf or hard of hearing. Of the deaf or hard of hearing participants in the study, 26 had been exposed to American Sign Language, or ASL, from birth by a deaf parent, while the remainder were not exposed to the language until later in life. early childhood: 28 in ASL and 23 in spoken English. The researchers asked the children’s parents to answer questions assessing the children’s executive functioning. Executive functioning refers to how people monitor their own behavior, choose how to respond, and plan to achieve their goals.
The questions were from a set often used to assess attention deficit disorder and other executive function disorders in children, and to assess issues such as whether a child can follow two-step instructions such as “go up and take your shoes off, âor if the child has emotional outbursts. The results showed no difference between children exposed to the language at birth, whether that language was spoken or signed. But children who had delayed language exposure tended to have more problems with executive functioning.
“We have shown that the delays observed in previous studies are not about their deafness, but about early access to language,” said Marie Coppola, psychologist at UConn and co-author of the study. The research is part of Coppola’s larger project that examines how the age of first exposure to spoken and signed language affects executive functioning and math skills in deaf and hard of hearing children.
Goodwin is also working on a project studying the influence of ASL on the development of spoken English in children learning both languages. (ANI)
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