OBJECTIVE: A growing number of studies on deaf children with cochlear implant (CI) document a significant improvement in receptive and expressive language skills after implantation, even if they show language delay when compared with normal-hearing peers. Data on language acquisition in CI Italian children are still scarce and limited to only certain aspects of language. The purpose of this study is to prospectively describe the trajectories of language development in early CI Italian children, with particular attention to the transition from first words to combinatorial speech and to acquisition of complex grammar in a language with rich morphology, such as Italian. DESIGN:: Six children, with profound prelingual deafness, provided with CI, between 16 and 24 months of age were prospectively assessed and followed over a mean period of up to 34.8 months postimplant. During follow-up, each child received between four to five individual language evaluations through a combination of indirect procedures (parent reports of early lexical and grammar development) and direct ones (administration of standardized receptive and expressive language tests with Italian norms and collection of spontaneous language samples). RESULTS:: In relation to chronological age, the acquisition of expressive vocabulary was delayed. However, considering the duration of hearing experience, most CI participants showed an earlier start and faster growth of expressive rather than receptive vocabulary in comparison with typically developing children. This quite atypical result persisted right up until the end of the follow-up. The acquisition of expressive grammar was delayed relative to chronological age, though all but one CI participant achieved the expected grammar level after approximately 3 years of CI use. In addition, the rate of grammar acquisition was not homogeneous during development, showing two different paces: one comparable with normal hearing in the transition from holophrastic to primitive combinatorial speech and a much slower one to attain more advanced levels of morphosyntactic control. CONCLUSION:: From a rehabilitative viewpoint, our results suggest the importance of implementing rehabilitation in lexical comprehension, even when expressive vocabulary appears to be within normal range. Moreover, assessment of language acquisition in CI Italian children should focus on those grammar aspects that are more vulnerable to early acoustic deprivation (such as free and bound morphology) to ensure enhanced language therapy planning.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Speech and Hearing