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Parents are the best therapy

18. October 2017
By Louise Kaben, Program Manager Hear the World Foundation

When little Alejandro first heard his mother’s voice, it was a milestone in the life of the four-year-old: he could hear. The boy from Panama had profound hearing loss. In spring 2017 he received a cochlear implant from Hear the World. Today modern technology provides him with the physical prerequisites for hearing, and above all for speaking. What hearing children learn naturally in their first years of life, Alejandro has to learn in language training. Now a study has shown that the most important language therapy is sensitive parents.

What effect does education have on the development of children with cochlear implants?  That’s the question child psychologist Alexandra L. Quittner, of the University of Miami, set out to explore. She investigated 188 children with profound hearing loss aged from five months to five years. She discovered that children with cochlear implants whose mothers express positive regard and emotional support develop language skills faster and often reach the language level of children with normal hearing. The study proves what experience in practice frequently shows: that parents’ sensitivity has a strong and lasting impact on oral language learning. In other words, the better parents and children understand each other – literally – the faster the children learn to speak.
The reason is that a better relationship between parents and child helps the child to develop autonomy and positive regard. The largest improvements in language development were observed in children whose parents displayed high sensitivity. Deaf children with sensitive parents had only a 1-year “delay” in oral language compared with 2.5 years in children with less sensitive parents.

Showing parents how to support their children

The findings indicate that parent training is important for children with cochlear implants. The Hear the World Foundation already relies on the active involvement of parents. Because parents become a significant element of speech therapy, training and supporting them is part of Hear the World’s commitment. In developed countries, parents of children with hearing loss are additionally helped by sharing experiences with each other, for example, in self-help groups. But in many regions no such groups exist, and then Hear the World takes over this role. Special evening courses are offered for parents, in which they learn how hearing works, how to listen properly and they practice the use of facial expressions, body language and gestures. They also receive valuable tips, tricks and training materials so they can support their children in their language training at home in a fun way. 
Alejandro’s parents attended courses too. They know that apart from the implant and the thrice-weekly language training, their emotional support is the most important prerequisite for their child to be able to speak properly one day. Thus every day they train with him playfully, sensitively and with lots of humor, so that Alejandro will soon be linguistically fit enough to attend a normal school – the next big milestone in his life.  

Further information

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Pediatrics. The study comprised 188 children from the age of five months to five years with profound hearing loss.
More about the study
Read Alejandro’s story here
Tips for parents of children with hearing loss