Social and Emotional Functioning of Children with Cochlear Implants

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Studies of infants and children have demonstrated the importance of sensory processing in facilitating social and emotional development. Children who are deaf are deprived of the information typically provided by the auditory modality that is necessary to the development of basic social and emotional skills, which serve as the foundation upon which complex social and emotional constructs are built. Children with cochlear implants experience extended periods of total auditory deprivation during early childhood, followed by the introduction of auditory stimulation.

Thirty-nine children with cochlear implants, aged five through fourteen, as well as an age and sex matched group of normal hearing peers, participated in assessment of the integrated perception of multimodal stimuli, processing of facial and vocal expressions of emotion, and emotion understanding skills. These dimensions of basic social and emotional functioning are vulnerable to the effects of atypical early experience. The age at which children received their cochlear implant and the length of time that they have used the cochlear implant were hypothesized to predict performance on the assessments.

Results showed that the age at implant predicted performance on the McGurk fusion task, which requires the integration of multimodal sensory stimuli. Specifically, children who received their cochlear implant prior to age 30 months accurately identified the incongruent auditory-visual stimuli, whereas children who received their cochlear implant after 30 months of age did not. Age at implant and duration of implant use did not predict performance on the other experimental tasks. Comparison of groups revealed that performance of children with cochlear implants did not differ from children with normal hearing in a facial emotion identification task and in 2 components of emotion understanding: receptive identification of facial expressions and affective-perspective taking. Children with cochlear implants demonstrated poorer performance than children with normal hearing in tasks requiring free labeling of facial expressions of emotion, and vocal emotion identification. This research suggests sensitive periods in multimodal sensory integration. The present study provides understanding of the social and emotional influences of early experience with the auditory system on children with cochlear implants.