Sophie Ambrose, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Reading to your children and engaging in meaningful family conversations at the dinner table are practical parenting tips for all families – especially for children with hearing loss. In fact, children with hearing loss who are exposed to more talk typically develop stronger language skills than children with hearing loss who are exposed to less talk…and here’s the proof.
Researchers at Boys Town National Research Hospital asked parents to have their child wear a small recording device in the pocket of a specially designed vest for one full day. The device, which is part of the Language Environment Analysis (LENA) system, recorded all the sounds in the child’s environment, including the child’s vocalizations and those of anyone around him or her. After the recording was completed, the parents mailed the device back to Boys Town Hospital where the researchers plugged the device into the computer and used a computer program to analyze the recorded information. The sophisticated program segments the recorded information into categories: adult male, adult female, key child, other child, electronic media and television, overlapping speech, noise, and uncertain.
“It’s simply not possible to follow children around all day and document how much each parent is talking, or how much the television is turned on in the background,” said Sophie Ambrose, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Postdoctoral Fellow and Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist at Boys Town National Research Hospital. “This new technology is providing us with information about children’s environments that we otherwise would never be able to know.”
The results from the 31 children who participated in this study indicated that:
- Children with hearing loss were exposed to more talk from mothers than fathers or siblings.
- The amount of language provided by mothers was associated with improved receptive language outcomes.
- Children who were frequently engaged in conversations demonstrated the strongest language outcomes.
- Conversational interactions were less frequent in homes with high rates of television viewing, which in turn predicted weaker language skills for children with hearing loss.
The results of this study demonstrated that when parents engage their child in conversations, they are helping their child build language skills, so the more frequent the conversational interactions, the better. Just as important, the study showed that television exposure decreased vital conversational interactions, which may negatively impact children’s language development.
“It is important for parents to talk to their children, but it is even more important for parents to engage their children in conversational interactions,” said Dr. Ambrose. “For early interventionists, this means we must not only coach parents to talk to their children frequently, but also coach them to pause from time to time to give children a chance to respond.”