Early identification: Language skills and social functioning in deaf and hard of hearing preschool children.


OBJECTIVE: Permanent childhood hearing impairment often results in speech and language problems that are already apparent in early childhood. Past studies show a clear link between language skills and the child’s social-emotional functioning. The aim of this study was to examine the level of language and communication skills after the introduction of early identification services and their relation with social functioning and behavioral problems in deaf and hard of hearing children. STUDY DESIGN: Nationwide cross-sectional observation of a cohort of 85 early identified deaf and hard of hearing preschool children (aged 30-66 months). METHODS: Parents reported on their child’s communicative abilities (MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory III), social functioning and appearance of behavioral problems (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire). Receptive and expressive language skills were measured using the Reynell Developmental Language Scale and the Schlichting Expressive Language Test, derived from the child’s medical records. RESULTS: Language and communicative abilities of early identified deaf and hard of hearing children are not on a par with hearing peers. Compared to normative scores from hearing children, parents of deaf and hard of hearing children reported lower social functioning and more behavioral problems. Higher communicative abilities were related to better social functioning and less behavioral problems. No relation was found between the degree of hearing loss, age at amplification, uni- or bilateral amplification, mode of communication and social functioning and behavioral problems. CONCLUSION: These results suggest that improving the communicative abilities of deaf and hard of hearing children could improve their social-emotional functioning.