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Original Investigation |

The Influence of Hearing Aids on the Speech and Language Development of Children With Hearing Loss

J. Bruce Tomblin, PhD1; Jacob J. Oleson, PhD2; Sophie E. Ambrose, PhD3; Elizabeth Walker, PhD1; Mary Pat Moeller, PhD3
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, The University of Iowa, Iowa City
2Department of Biostatistics, The University of Iowa, Iowa City
3Center for Childhood Deafness, Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014;140(5):403-409. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2014.267.
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Importance  Hearing loss (HL) in children can be deleterious to their speech and language development. The standard of practice has been early provision of hearing aids (HAs) to moderate these effects; however, there have been few empirical studies evaluating the effectiveness of this practice on speech and language development among children with mild-to-severe HL.

Objective  To investigate the contributions of aided hearing and duration of HA use to speech and language outcomes in children with mild-to-severe HL.

Design, Setting, and Participants  An observational cross-sectional design was used to examine the association of aided hearing levels and length of HA use with levels of speech and language outcomes. One hundred eighty 3- and 5-year-old children with HL were recruited through records of Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and referrals from clinical service providers in the general community in 6 US states.

Interventions  All but 4 children had been fitted with HAs, and measures of aided hearing and the duration of HA use were obtained.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Standardized measures of speech and language ability were obtained.

Results  Measures of the gain in hearing ability for speech provided by the HA were significantly correlated with levels of speech (ρ179 = 0.20; P = .008) and language: ρ155 = 0.21; P = .01) ability. These correlations were indicative of modest levels of association between aided hearing and speech and language outcomes. These benefits were found for children with mild and moderate-to-severe HL. In addition, the amount of benefit from aided hearing interacted with the duration of HA experience (Speech: F4,161 = 4.98; P < .001; Language: F4,138 = 2.91; P < .02). Longer duration of HA experience was most beneficial for children who had the best aided hearing.

Conclusions and Relevance  The degree of improved hearing provided by HAs was associated with better speech and language development in children. In addition, the duration of HA experience interacted with the aided hearing to influence outcomes. These results provide support for the provision of well-fitted HAs to children with HL. In particular, the findings support early HA fitting and HA provision to children with mild HL.

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Figure 1.
Participants’ Speech Intelligibility Index (SII) as a Function of Unaided, Better-Ear 4-Frequency Pure-Tone Average (PTA)

Unaided SII (filled circles) and aided SII (open circles) for all research participants as a function of their unaided better-ear 4-frequency PTA. HL indicates hearing loss.

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Figure 2.
The Relationship Between Residualized Speech Intelligibility Index (rSII) and Speech and Language Achievement

A, The linear relationship between rSII and speech sound production ability (Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation 2 [GFTA-2]). B, Language ability for children with mild or moderate-to-severe hearing loss (HL). The rSII is a measure of the aided SII with unaided SII partialled out. Solid lines indicate mild HL; dashed lines indicate moderate-to-severe HL.

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