(RxWiki News) Children with hearing loss often have no problems keeping up with their peers in their schoolwork. But how well are they included in the playground?
Recent research shows that children with hearing loss have more success socially when they have clear speech, even at an early age.
The study looked at children with hearing loss in two different settings: a kindergarten class with only one hearing impaired child and a class where there were six to eight children with hearing loss among a class of children with normal hearing.
Children with clearer speech in both settings had better social success with their normally hearing peers and fewer feelings of loneliness than those with lower speech intelligibility scores.
"Ask a pediatrician if speech therapy would help your child."
Tova Most of the School of Education at Tel Aviv University and colleagues designed the study to look at the relationship between social competence, loneliness and speech intelligibility among preschool children with hearing loss.
Social competence indicates how well someone can make and keep social connections. Speech intelligibility means how well a child with hearing loss can be understood when talking.
In order to conduct the study, the researchers looked at 64 children between the ages of 4 and 7 with hearing loss in Israel. None of the children had additional diagnosed problems.
The study participants had mild to profound hearing loss. Each used hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. All the children received speech and language therapy either once or twice a week.
The research was done in two different classroom settings.
In the first setting, 22 individual children with hearing loss attended regular kindergarten classrooms in their neighborhoods. These children received hearing, speech, and language therapy at two locations - in the kindergarten classroom and at a special hearing loss support center.
These children also received social and emotional support through meetings at the special center with other children with hearing loss. Children in this setting usually communicated only through spoken language.
In the second setting they looked at in the study, 42 children were divided into groups of six to eight children with hearing loss attending a standard kindergarten classroom.
The children in this type of classroom spent most of the day doing the same activities together. However, two daily hour-long sessions were held specially for the children with hearing loss.
These lessons exposed them to vocabulary words that would be later taught in the “normal” class, as well as hearing, speech and language therapy. The children in this setting communicated through a combination of spoken and sign language.
The researchers asked the children’s teachers to fill out three questionnaires for each of the study participants. These questionnaires measured the children’s social competence, speech intelligibility and the teacher’s perception of the children’s sense of loneliness.
A report on the children’s background was also obtained.
Social competence was evaluated in two different ways: how the children with hearing loss related to children with normal hearing and how they related to other children with hearing loss.
The children in the first setting, where they were the only child in the classroom to have hearing loss, scored significantly higher in social competence in their relationships with normally-hearing children in their class than did the children with hearing loss who attended kindergarten with other children with hearing loss.
However, there were no differences between the social competence the first setting children had with normally-hearing children and the social competence the second setting children with hearing loss had with other children in their class with hearing loss.
It was also found that the children in the second setting had higher social competence scores when relating with other children with hearing loss compared to when they were relating with children with normal hearing.
There was no significant difference between the average loneliness scores of the children with hearing loss in the two different settings. Individually, the children with higher social competence scores had lower loneliness scores.
Children in the second setting got lower average speech intelligibility scores than the children in the first setting where they were the only child with hearing loss, according to the regular teacher evaluations. There was no difference between the average speech intelligibility scores of the two groups, according to the special education teacher evaluations.
The children in the first setting with higher speech intelligibility scores had lower loneliness scores and higher social competence scores than children with lower speech intelligibility scores.
A similar relationship was found in the second setting with regards to their interactions with hearing children in their class. Children with high speech intelligibility scores had high social competence with hearing children than did children with hearing loss and lower speech intelligibility scores.
Speech intelligibility did not affect relations between children with hearing loss in the second setting or their sense of loneliness.
Based on these results, the researchers concluded that clear, understandable speech was important for not just good communication but also social development starting from an early age.
Children who had a hard time interacting with their peers because their speech was difficult to understand had more limited social opportunities than their normal-hearing peers. These difficulties in communication could lead to feelings of loneliness among children with hearing loss.
Children with hearing loss, parents and specialists can aid successful integration by focusing on speech development, said Professor Most.
Teachers can also do their part to create a more welcoming environment by creating small work groups and setting up meeting points in advance so the child won't be left out, she said.
The study was first published online on December 19, 2011, and more recently in the Spring 2012 volume of the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.
The authors reported no conflicts of interest. The researchers carried out the study as part of their professional positions - there was no outside funding for the research.