Although it has been established that bilateral cochlear implants (CIs) offer additional speech perception and localization benefits to many children with severe to profound hearing loss, whether these improved perceptual abilities facilitate significantly better language development has not yet been clearly established. The aims of this study were to compare language abilities of children having unilateral and bilateral CIs to quantify the rate of any improvement in language attributable to bilateral CIs and to document other predictors of language development in children with CIs.
The receptive vocabulary and language development of 91 children was assessed when they were aged either 5 or 8 years old by using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (fourth edition), and either the Preschool Language Scales (fourth edition) or the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (fourth edition), respectively. Cognitive ability, parent involvement in children’s intervention or education programs, and family reading habits were also evaluated. Language outcomes were examined by using linear regression analyses. The influence of elements of parenting style, child characteristics, and family background as predictors of outcomes were examined.
Children using bilateral CIs achieved significantly better vocabulary outcomes and significantly higher scores on the Core and Expressive Language subscales of the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (fourth edition) than did comparable children with unilateral CIs. Scores on the Preschool Language Scales (fourth edition) did not differ significantly between children with unilateral and bilateral CIs. Bilateral CI use was found to predict significantly faster rates of vocabulary and language development than unilateral CI use; the magnitude of this effect was moderated by child age at activation of the bilateral CI. In terms of parenting style, high levels of parental involvement, low amounts of screen time, and more time spent by adults reading to children facilitated significantly better vocabulary and language outcomes. In terms of child characteristics, higher cognitive ability and female sex were predictive of significantly better language outcomes. When family background factors were examined, having tertiary-educated primary caregivers and a family history of hearing loss were significantly predictive of better outcomes. Birth order was also found to have a significant negative effect on both vocabulary and language outcomes, with each older sibling predicting a 5 to 10% decrease in scores.
Children with bilateral CIs achieved significantly better vocabulary outcomes, and 8-year-old children with bilateral CIs had significantly better language outcomes than did children with unilateral CIs. These improvements were moderated by children’s ages at both first and second CIs. The outcomes were also significantly predicted by a number of factors related to parenting, child characteristics, and family background. Fifty-one percent of the variance in vocabulary outcomes and between 59 to 69% of the variance in language outcomes was predicted by the regression models.