Understanding Literacy in Kids with Cochlear Implants

Even with hearing corrected, children may lag behind in language or reading comprehension.

(This article by Rachel Stowe Master originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of TCU Magazine.)

Listening and learning go together, but improving children’s ability to do the former doesn’t always help the latter.

Hearing problems, even when corrected, can put students at a disadvantage. Students who got cochlear implants as young children often still read at levels below their peers in high school.

Emily Lund, assistant professor at the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, is exploring whether a lack of phonological awareness — the understanding of how sounds make up words — is related to vocabulary size in children with cochlear implants.

Photo of Danielle Brimo and Emily Lund

Danielle Brimo, left, assistant professor at the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, is analyzing the effectiveness of grammar instruction for students with below-average language or reading-comprehension skills. Emily Lund, assistant professor at the Davies School, is exploring early literacy development in children with cochlear implants in hopes of better treatments for literacy delays. (Photo by Carolyn Cruz)

To conduct the research, Lund received a $282,807 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Her study aims to better understand early literacy development in children with cochlear implants in order to improve treating literacy delays.

Aided by undergraduate assistants, Lund studied the differences between children with cochlear implants and those with normal hearing in how well they understood the sonic components of words. She wanted to determine if children with cochlear implants knew fewer dense words, which sound similar to other words like cat, hat, cap. She also investigated whether those children connected similar sounds in different words, such as the “m” in moon and mouse, and performed worse on phonological awareness tasks.

Lund explored an early literacy deficit in once-deaf children that does not directly result from their speech-perception limitations.

“The findings could indicate that giving children who were deaf access to sound through a cochlear implant isn’t sufficient to help a child develop literacy skills organically,” she said. “We also need to consider how we teach these skills to children who aren’t used to learning through listening.”

Read more in TCU Magazine.