A new study suggests that mothers who are very sensitive in their interactions with their deaf children who have received cochlear implants encourage faster language development — virtually helping them catch up to their hearing peers.
“I was surprised that maternal sensitivity had such strong and consistent effects on oral language learning,” said psychologist Dr. Alexandra L.Quittner, director of the Child Division in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami.
“The findings indicate that pediatric cochlear implant programs should offer parent training that facilitates a more positive parent-child relationship and fosters the child’s development of autonomy and positive regard.”
The study, led by Quittner, is one of the largest, most nationally representative studies regarding the effects of parenting on very young, deaf children who have received cochlear implants.
The researchers’ main goal was to understand how parental behavior affects language growth in deaf children. Maternal sensitivity was measured in video-recorded interactions between the mother and child and defined by warmth — the degree to which a mother expressed positive reactions and emotional support toward the child.
The study included 188 children with severe to profound loss of hearing, between the ages of five months to five years. In addition to analyzing the effects of a mother’s sensitivity toward language development, the study also looked at the impact of cognitive and language stimulation.
Observed interactions between the mother and child included free play, puzzle solving, and an art gallery activity with five posters mounted at different heights on the walls of the playroom.
The greatest improvements in language development were found in children whose parents displayed high sensitivity. Language stimulation was also an important predictor of language gains, but was most effective when delivered in a sensitive manner.
Deaf children with sensitive parents had only a one-year delay in oral language compared to 2.5 years among those with less sensitive parents.
This group of deaf and hearing children has now been followed for about eight years post-implantation, and researchers will follow them for another five years into adolescence. The goal will be to focus on their cognitive and social development, as well as their academic achievement.
The study is published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Source: University of Miami