Language Acquisition and Critical Periods for Children Using Cochlear Implants

Shani Dettman and Richard Dowell

in The Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Vol. 2

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780195390032
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Language Acquisition and Critical Periods for Children Using Cochlear Implants

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  • Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology


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The critical period hypothesis, as it relates to language acquisition, states that there is a limited window of opportunity for the infant to optimally process incoming acoustic input, learn to discriminate phonemes, and organize language into meaningful units. When auditory input is absent during the critical period, connections within the brain may tend to be organized in the absence of phonological discrimination. This may, in part, account for the long-term language processing difficulties that are often reported for children with significant hearing loss.

The advent of cochlear implants provided researchers with a unique opportunity to examine the impact of earlier versus later access to audition on emerging linguistic domains such as phonology, semantics, morphology, and syntax. The average language outcomes for profoundly hearing-impaired children over the past 20 years using either hearing aids or cochlear implants have been generally disappointing. In contrast, the most recent outcomes for profoundly deaf infants receiving cochlear implants before the age of 12 months show language development within the normal range. Technological advances in physiological studies and medical imaging, coupled with the results from the most recent formal language measures, appear to support the view that cochlear implants are now being applied early enough to maximize natural language development for infants and toddlers.

Keywords: cochlear implants; language development; critical periods

Article.  8691 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Educational Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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