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YOUR HEALTH: How do we learn to talk?

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It's an interesting question: if you can't hear sounds, then how can you learn to speak?

Two out of every 1000 children in America are born hard of hearing or totally deaf.  For some, cochlear implants help bridge the communication gap between those children and the hearing world.

Right after three year old Logan Manch was born, his parents feared they would struggle to communicate.

"There's mild, moderate, severe and profound and he was profoundly deaf in both ears," explained Sarah Lodge, Logan's mother.

Doctors implanted cochlear hearing devices but Sarah and her husband worried Logan would lag way behind big sister Jenna when it came time to talk.

"Here we have some, some new toys," says Dr. Derek Houston.

Houston, a cognitive psychologist, is studying the impact of cochlear implants on language by watching kids and caregivers interact.

"We just say play with your child how you normally would with these objects."

But, the toys are given made up names.

"What does the wawa do?"

And the kids and caregivers wear head mounted cameras.

"We can see moment by moment where they are looking from their own perspective," explained Dr. Houston.

Researchers learn which made up words the kids remember, then they analyze the parental interactions that worked.

"The ultimate goal is to have evidence-based education and therapy for children with hearing loss," said Dr. Houston.

"Logan can you put the froggy beside the pool?"

Sara says positional words like beside or inside help sharpen Logan's skills.   She also talks through the steps of their day out loud.

"He's come a long way," she said.

Professor Houston says he hopes the research will soon be extended to children with Attention Deficit Disorder and autism.

NEW DEVELOPMENT: To better understand how deaf infants with cochlear implants absorb information and learn language through interactions with their parents, researchers from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have launched this new study. They are investigating the role of deafness and subsequent cochlear implantations on infant-parent communicative interactions by collecting interaction data from deaf infants before and after cochlear implantation and also from children with normal hearing. During the audio-recorded sessions, both the parent and infant wear head-mounted cameras with eye-tracking devices to document where the child`s focus is as a parent presents a new toy with an unusual name. From six different angles, the technology records the child`s reaction as the parent says a new word, and researchers take this footage to review patterns and signs of word recognition.   (Source: https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/mediaroom/pressreleaselisting/hightech-study-aims-to-see-how-deaf-infants-with-cochlear-implants-learn-words)

Technology does not cure hearing loss, but it may be able to help a child make the most of their residual hearing. For parents interested in the technology, there are options:

  • Hearing aids: which can amplify sounds, can be fitted behind the ears, since they are better suited for growing ears
  • Cochlear implants may help children with severe or profound hearing loss, usually when hearing aids are not enough. These do not make sounds louder, but send sound signals directly to the hearing nerve. One part is placed inside the ear during surgery; the other part sits outside the ear sending the signals
  • Bone-anchored hearing aids are for children who do not see results using regular hearing aids or cochlear implants

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.