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In 2015, Giovanna Morini, a postdoctoral student in UD’s School of Education was awarded a two-year postdoctoral fellowship to studyUsing the Tools of Developmental Science to Diagnose Language Processing in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants. This two-year $184,000 grant is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Together with Roberta Golinkoff, SOE and Thierry Morlet at Nemours/AlfredI. duPont Hospital for Children, babies diagnosed with various levels of deafness will be tested to determine if they can process human speech.

Project Summary

Lack of exposure to sound and speech during the first few months of life is detrimental for development of the brain’s auditory processing areas.

The current research combines clinical practices with research approaches to examine the development of speech processing abilities in typical, deaf, and hard-of-hearing infants. This work provides valuable information regarding how children with various degrees of hearing loss process speech. The project has the potential to substantially improve language outcomes in deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) children, by providing a set of measures that will help determine candidacy for cochlear implants.

Findings will not only enhance scientific understanding of DHH children’s language development, but also provide important benefits to society. Special education for children with hearing loss who fail to receive appropriate early intervention costs the public additional thousands of dollars per year, and keeps these children from fulfilling their potential. Furthermore, the inclusion of typical-hearing children informs the wider field of infant speech perception, affording insight into the trajectories that characterize development. Discoveries and extensions from this project are relevant for clinicians, parents, educators, policy makers, researchers and most importantly, to the children whose lives are potentially affected.

This project evaluates the feasibility of a hybrid approach that takes techniques and concepts from the field of psycholinguistics to examine how the degree of hearing loss relates to the development of speech processing skills and later vocabulary outcomes in DHH children. By incorporating parental reports and behavioral measures used by developmental researchers (e.g., eye-gaze/looking patterns), as well as audiometric measures (e.g., Otoacoustic Emissions, auditory brain responses), the project translates the fruits of developmental science for use with a clinical group while at the same time providing valuable information about typical development.