Executive Function in Deaf Children: Auditory Access and Language Access Purpose Deaf children are frequently reported to be at risk for difficulties in executive function (EF); however, the literature is divided over whether these difficulties are the result of deafness itself or of delays/deficits in language that often co-occur with deafness. The purpose of this study is to discriminate these ... Research Article
Research Article  |   August 08, 2018
Executive Function in Deaf Children: Auditory Access and Language Access
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Matthew L. Hall
    Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
    Department of Linguistics, University of Connecticut, Storrs
  • Inge-Marie Eigsti
    Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs
  • Heather Bortfeld
    Department of Psychological Sciences, University of California, Merced
  • Diane Lillo-Martin
    Department of Linguistics, University of Connecticut, Storrs
  • Disclosure: The author has declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The author has declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Correspondence to Matthew L. Hall: matthew.hall@umassd.edu
  • Editor-in-Chief: Sean Redmond
    Editor-in-Chief: Sean Redmond×
  • Editor: Irina Castellanos
    Editor: Irina Castellanos×
Article Information
Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   August 08, 2018
Executive Function in Deaf Children: Auditory Access and Language Access
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2018, Vol. 61, 1970-1988. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-17-0281
History: Received July 26, 2017 , Revised December 28, 2017 , Accepted April 17, 2018
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2018, Vol. 61, 1970-1988. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-17-0281
History: Received July 26, 2017; Revised December 28, 2017; Accepted April 17, 2018

Purpose Deaf children are frequently reported to be at risk for difficulties in executive function (EF); however, the literature is divided over whether these difficulties are the result of deafness itself or of delays/deficits in language that often co-occur with deafness. The purpose of this study is to discriminate these hypotheses by assessing EF in populations where the 2 accounts make contrasting predictions.

Method We use a between-groups design involving 116 children, ages 5–12 years, across 3 groups: (a) participants with normal hearing (n = 45), (b) deaf native signers who had access to American Sign Language from birth (n = 45), and (c) oral cochlear implant users who did not have full access to language prior to cochlear implantation (n = 26). Measures include both parent report and performance-based assessments of EF.

Results Parent report results suggest that early access to language has a stronger impact on EF than early access to sound. Performance-based results trended in a similar direction, but no between-group differences were significant.

Conclusions These results indicate that healthy EF skills do not require audition and therefore that difficulties in this domain do not result primarily from a lack of auditory experience. Instead, results are consistent with the hypothesis that language proficiency, whether in sign or speech, is crucial for the development of healthy EF. Further research is needed to test whether sign language proficiency also confers benefits to deaf children from hearing families.

Acknowledgments
This work was supported by National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Award R01DC009263 to Diane Lillo-Martin and Award F32DC013239 to Matthew Hall. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders or the National Institutes of Health. The authors thank the children and families who participated as well as the schools and administrators who allowed us to conduct this research (including the Texas School for the Deaf, the Maryland School for the Deaf, the American School for the Deaf, G. H. Robertson Elementary School, and the Kendall Demonstration School at Gallaudet University).
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