To compare the language abilities of earlier- and later-identified deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
We compared the receptive and expressive language abilities of 72 deaf or hard-of-hearing children whose hearing losses were identified by 6 months of age with 78 children whose hearing losses were identified after the age of 6 months. All of the children received early intervention services within an average of 2 months after identification. The participants' receptive and expressive language abilities were measured using the Minnesota Child Development Inventory.
Children whose hearing losses were identified by 6 months of age demonstrated significantly better language scores than children identified after 6 months of age. For children with normal cognitive abilities, this language advantage was found across all test ages, communication modes, degrees of hearing loss, and socioeconomic strata. It also was independent of gender, minority status, and the presence or absence of additional disabilities.
Significantly better language development was associated with early identification of hearing loss and early intervention. There was no significant difference between the earlier- and later-identified groups on several variables frequently associated with language ability in deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Thus, the variable on which the two groups differed (age of identification and intervention) must be considered a potential explanation for the language advantage documented in the earlier-identified group.