A study in the July 2017
Pediatrics examines the impact that exposure to
early sign language had on children who received
The study, "Early Sign Language Exposure and Cochlear Implantation Benefits," used data from a nationwide database to document verbal skills in children with cochlear implants who differed in the amount and duration of early sign language exposure provided in their homes or in intervention programs.
Researchers found over 70% of children without sign language exposure achieved spoken language similar to their age-mates with normal hearing, compared to only 39% of those exposed to sign for three or more years.
Children whose families used spoken language exclusively also had better speech recognition skills and more intelligible speech after three years of implant use. They also demonstrated a statistically significant advantage in spoken language and reading near the end of elementary grades over children exposed to sign language. Children whose parents used sign language were significantly more likely than children of non-signing parents to exhibit spoken
language delays in elementary grades and to fall behind children of the same age in reading comprehension by the late elementary grade levels.
The authors conclude that in this study, early exposure to sign language did not enhance either spoken language or reading skills.
Editor's Note: The solicited commentary, "Opportunities and Shared Decision-Making to Help Children Who are Deaf to Communicate," will accompany this article.