Colorado researchers develop intervention techniques for hearing-impaired infants from Spanish-speaking homes

November 16, 2000

University of Colorado at Boulder faculty have devised a new method to study how language develops in Spanish-speaking populations as part of a larger effort to identify and help deaf and hard-of-hearing U.S. infants using family intervention techniques.

Technological advances have enabled researchers to identify hearing-impaired infants at very early stages, said CU-Boulder Professor Christine Yoshinaga-Itano of the speech, language and hearing sciences department. Legislation for newborn hearing screening programs have been passed in 32 states, which will help identify hearing loss in thousands of infants annually within the first few months of life, she said.

A landmark study by Yoshinaga-Itano, Professor Elizabeth Jancosek and their CU-Boulder colleagues earlier this year showed the identification of deaf or hard-of-hearing babies within six months of birth had startlingly positive effects on their subsequent language abilities. Intervention with hearing aids, sign language and auditory and speech development tools involving the infants' parents provided such children a significantly more expressive vocabulary by age 3 than hearing-impaired children who went undetected, according to the study.

The results of the new CU-Boulder study were presented Nov. 17 at a meeting of the American Speech and Hearing Association in Washington, D.C.

The United States now has the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world behind Mexico, Spain, Columbia, Argentina and Peru. "Because of increasing diversity in the United States and large numbers of immigrants whose dominant or primary language in the home is not English, services to children with communication disabilities present large challenges for American speech and language professionals," Yoshinaga-Itano said.

Funded by two grants over the past six years from the U.S. Office of Education, the CU-Boulder study allowed Yoshinaga-Itano and Jancosek to study how language develops in Spanish-speaking populations in various American cities and develop early intervention techniques involving the parents.

"With the current focus on parent involvement in education, the assessment procedures we developed place a strong emphasis on information which parents have about their children's development and skills," said Jancosek. The parent-infant intervention for non-English speaking families contrasts significantly with school-age educational services for hearing-impaired children. The emphasis at the infant/toddler stage is to help parents incorporate effective communication strategies in their daily routines and in the language spoken in the home, said Yoshinaga-Itano.

Because of the cultural influence, the language development of children without disabilities in Spanish-speaking American homes may differ from the language development of children in places like Spain or Latin America, said Yoshinaga-Itano.

The CU-Boulder researchers also found few studies have been done in Spanish-speaking countries on the language development of children from infancy. The CU-Boulder study involved more than 130 Spanish-speaking children between the ages of birth and three years. Monitoring the language and speech development of these infants had to be done in the native language of the family since their parents have not yet acquired fluency in English, said Yoshinaga-Itano.

The results showed the relationships of symbolic play and vocabulary and grammar development in Spanish-speaking families were similar to such relationships among English-speaking children. "With appropriate adaptations for language and cultural differences, developmental instruments administered through parent questionnaires in Spanish provide valuable data similar to that obtained from English-speaking parents," said Jancosek.

The bottom line, said Yoshinaga-Itano, is "language analysis of parent-child conversations and parent questionnaires about development in Spanish can provide useful information for speech/language pathologists working with children at risk for language delay."

In the CU-Boulder study published early this year in the Volta Review, the researchers showed deaf or hearing-impaired infants receiving early intervention managed to maintain language development that was within the normal range through their early childhood.
Additional contact: Jim Scott, (303) 492-3114

University of Colorado at Boulder

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