Researchers study hearing, language

Kelly McClurg, Special to The Capital Times

Infant Learning Lab researchers have recently focused on learning more about people with delayed language comprehension by observing learning methods used by children developing normally and children experiencing language delays.

Children with Down’s syndrome and similar developmental disabilities are among those being researched. The Infant Learning Lab and the Binomial Hearing and Speech Lab also are collaborating on a project involving the language development of children with cochlear implants, devices providing a sense of sound to people deaf or hard-of-hearing.

“Understanding how different things like hearing loss might impact language acquisition … would be helpful in jump-starting people into the process of a later stage of language development,” said Jessica Hay, Infant Learning Lab post-doctorate.

Children from across the country fly to Madison for two days of studies in which many of the same techniques applied in Infant Learning Lab research are used. Tests help determine how effectively implants let children hear and learn language.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, nearly 15,000 children in the United States received cochlear implants as of 2005, the majority 2- to 6-year-olds, since laws prohibit children younger than 18 months from receiving most implants.

“My interest is when children are deprived of hearing for that first one to two years and then they receive cochlear implants … how are they still able to learn words and language,” said Tina Grieco, post-doctorate in the Binomial Hearing and Speech Lab.

Grieco studies children 2 to 3 three years old who hear normally, or received a cochlear implant after being born deaf or experiencing early onset deafness. She said this research could show possible benefits to children receiving implants earlier or at least show educators ways of familiarizing hearing-impaired children with language during infancy, a crucial period in language development.

“To know the extent of a disorder or an impairment we have to really know the mechanisms that are underlying how they are learning,” Grieco said.