Language Underperformance in Young Children Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing: Are the Expectations Too Low?

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Abstract

Objective:

(1) To examine language performance in the context of cognitive abilities in young children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and (2) to identify factors associated with having a language underperformance, defined as a gap between the language standard score and the nonverbal IQ (NVIQ) standard score.

Methods:

Children 6 to 82 months of age with bilateral hearing loss were enrolled. Language performance was defined as a ratio of language skills relative to cognitive abilities with language underperformance defined as a ratio of language scores to NVIQ <0.85.

Results:

Among 149 children, approximately half had hearing loss that was clinically classified as mild or moderate, and over one-third received a cochlear implant. Participants had a mean NVIQ in the average range (95.4 [20.3]). Receptive language scores were significantly lower than their NVIQ by 10.6 points (p < .0001). Among children with NVIQs 80 to 100, 62.5% had receptive scores <85 and 50% had a language underperformance (ratio <0.85). Among children with NIVQs >100, 21.1% had receptive scores <85 with 42% having a language underperformance. Children with language underperformance (n = 61, 41.5%) were more likely to have more severe levels of hearing loss, lower socioeconomic status, and be nonwhite.

Conclusion:

Many children early identified with hearing loss continue to demonstrate language underperformance, defined using their cognitive potential. Language deficits have a cascading effect on social functioning in children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. This study highlights the need to understand a child's cognitive potential to adequately address language needs in existing intervention models.

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