"Baby talk" study aims to help parents communicate with infants who have hearing loss

Infant with hearing aidWe all do it: The pitch of our voices raises when we talk to babies. We get sing-songy. Emotional. We talk in short clips and repeat ourselves. Yes we do. Yes we do.

As it turns out, this infant-directed speech, or IDS, is extraordinarily important to a child’s language development. Babies are actually learning when you talk to them like babies! Research even shows that infants prefer it to adult-directed speech.

Unfortunately, infants with hearing loss miss this early exposure to language.

Derek Houston PhD

“Approximately three out of 1,000 infants are born with hearing loss,” says Derek Houston, PhD, an associate professor of otolaryngology at The Ohio State University who collaborates on research with Nationwide Children's Hospital. “A significant number [of these kids] fall behind in language and literacy compared to peers who have normal hearing.”

So for families in Central Ohio and elsewhere, when young children experience hearing loss, it can be a significant challenge.

Houston is hoping to change that.

Houston and fellow researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Otolaryngology are studying infant-directed speech and language development in infants with hearing loss, supported by a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Specifically, Houston and his colleagues hope to discover methods parents can use to better communicate with infants who have hearing loss.

It’s not easy, Houston says. But it’s important.

“Speech-language therapy is more of an art than a science,” he says, “and there’s a great need for evidence-based strategies on how to talk to your children.”

It’s early days for the study, but things are underway. If this sounds like a challenge your family faces, you should be in touch! For more information, or to enroll in the study, 614-685-6447.

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