Purpose

Children must develop optimal perceptual weighting strategies for processing speech in their first language. Hearing loss can interfere with that development, especially if cochlear implants are required. The three goals of this study were to measure, for children with and without hearing loss: (a) cue weighting for a manner distinction, (b) sensitivity to those cues, and (c) real-world communication functions.

Method

One hundred and seven children (43 with normal hearing [NH], 17 with hearing aids [HAs], and 47 with cochlear implants [CIs]) performed several tasks: labeling of stimuli from /bɑ/-to-/wɑ/ continua varying in formant and amplitude rise time (FRT and ART), discrimination of ART, word recognition, and phonemic awareness.

Results

Children with hearing loss were less attentive overall to acoustic structure than children with NH. Children with CIs, but not those with HAs, weighted FRT less and ART more than children with NH. Sensitivity could not explain cue weighting. FRT cue weighting explained significant amounts of variability in word recognition and phonemic awareness; ART cue weighting did not.

Conclusion

Signal degradation inhibits access to spectral structure for children with CIs, but cannot explain their delayed development of optimal weighting strategies. Auditory training could strengthen the weighting of spectral cues for children with CIs, thus aiding spoken language acquisition.

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Additional Resources