Book Study

Chapter 1 Summary

Brought to you by Marie Fisher:

Connections:  The author, Dana Suskind suggests that parent talk is the most valuable resource in this world no matter your race, culture, language etc.

My Story: Dr. Suskind decided to peruse her fascination of the brain through the ear and became a cochlear impact surgeon. The timing was ironic because in 1993 NIH set recommendations for all newborns to undergo hearing evaluation before leaving the hospital. The age of diagnosis changed from 3 years to 3 months.

The Cochlear Implant: In 1990 a multichannel cochlear implant allowed for complex speech processing. This timing was significant because children’s hearing loss was now being detected and possibly corrected via cochlear implant at an age when the brain pathways for language were being created. Before the NIH’s recommendations for newborn hearing screenings changed, children’s hearing loss was often not detected until age 3 and at that point the brain has completed 85% of its physical growth. Physical brain development and language development coincide. Children born deaf and implanted later in life will hear sounds but will rarely gain the ability to understand the meanings associated with the words they hear.

The Advantage of Starting Slowly: Dr. Suskind started a cochlear implant program at the University of Chicago. Her work started slow which allowed for her to attend and observe each specific family she worked with. The things she observed ultimately sparked her curiosity for a career in social science. She worked with families facing social and economic challenges.

Zach and Michelle: Both Zach and Michelle were among Dr. Suskind’s first patients to receive cochlear implants. Zach was born profoundly deaf. His parents made him wear hearing aids, had a therapist come to the home to work on techniques with the family and the parents signed with him so he had a mode of communication before being implanted around 8 months of age. Language was embedded throughout his home life. Michelle was also born deaf and received a cochlear implant around her second birthday. Michelle’s parents had a tougher home life including unemployment. Michelle’s father also had hearing loss due to Waardenburg Syndrome.

The Significant Difference: While Zach was reading on grade level (this predicts the ultimate learning trajectory), Michelle functions in third grade with minimal spoken language and a Kindergarten reading level. Dr. Suskind and her staff toured Chicago’s schools’ hearing loss classrooms to better understand “oral” (primarily spoken language) vs.“total communication (primarily used sign language) classrooms. Michelle was in the total communication classroom. Her teacher shared that she often came to school dirty, had no lunch and difficulties communicating.

The University of Chicago A Wonderful Home: Dr. Suskind concluded that Michelle’s lack of language development had to do with the home environment to which she was born. She was determined to find out how she could help this situation for children like Michelle. She started attending Child Language Development classes at the university.

Hart and Risley: Hart and Risley were child psychologists at the University of Kansas in 1960’s. They found that the language environments for children born into affluent families differed from those born into poverty. Language exposure, not socioeconomic status, is the ultimate difference. Quality and quantity of the words a child hears is linked to educational achievement.

Thanks, Marie!


4 thoughts on “Book Study

  1. Lisa Ehrie says:

    The idea that language exposure/language development can look so different for some children depending on their home environment (affluent vs poverty, quantity/quality of words…) has always been a fascinating research topic to me. Now that I work with so many young preschool children, I can often see first hand how significantly the home language environment can impact a child overall. I think I will make many “real connections” as we read this book!

  2. Karen says:

    I found chapter one interesting as it made me reflect on the many videos I have seen of children when a cochlear implant is turned on. The excitement and hope on the caregiver’s faces is a testament to power of medical technology in hopes of a return of hearing. I often had not thought of the role of the environment for these children in terms of language growth even though I know a language rich environment is critical to our typical children. I just assumed all families are able to provide this to their children; certainly, children who are deaf thinking parents will do everything in their power to improve this functioning. It truly does take more than the ability to hear sounds for language to develop and it is important to remember that language exposure, not socioeconomic status, is the ultimate difference.

  3. Katie Cohen says:

    I agree that we have to focus on language exposure as the most important factor in language development rather than SES. Thinking of Hart and Risley’s research from the 1960s: today our society has an even larger gap in SES – especially when comparing the resources of the top 1% to those living in poverty. With our highly evolving and continually increasing reliance on technology, we can see a decrease in language exposure in the home for young children. I wonder if families/ children from all SES classes are negatively impacted equally by the increse of technology use? Or some more than others?

  4. Jane says:

    I thought the examples of Zach and Michelle provided clear contrasts of language rich and language poor environments. With these examples, she sets up the entire premise of her book. It gave me a much needed reminder to remember to look at the whole child when looking at therapy and progress.

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