January 17, 2010, Updated September 14, 2012

A new study from Israel suggests that music therapy can help deaf children with cochlear implants to acquire speech more quickly and effectively.



Picture courtesy of Moshe Shai/Flash90.
Toddlers undergoing rehabilitation after a cochlear implant are under intense pressure to begin talking.

New research from Israel suggests that music therapy can help deaf or hearing-impaired toddlers who have undergone a cochlear implantation procedure to acquire speech.

Cochlear implants, which are sometimes called bionic ears, are increasingly common today. The surgically implanted electronic device provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. By April 2009, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, 180,000 people worldwide had received the implants and the number is rising annually. In the US alone some 30,000 of these were children.

While toddlers treated with the procedure are likely to gain about 90 percent normal hearing ability, the problem is that a child who has never heard before often undergoes a long rehabilitation process before learning to speak like his or her peers. While speech therapy and audiological training can take months, it typically takes years for a child to learn how to speak age-appropriately.

A bridge between worlds

In the new study, Dr. Dikla Kerem of the University of Haifa found that following music therapy sessions toddlers aged between two and three showed markedly more frequent and prolonged spontaneous communication.

“Music can constitute the bridge between the quiet world that the child knew and the new world of sounds that has been unfolded following the operation,” says Kerem, who carried out the study in Israel as part of a doctoral thesis at Aalborg University in Denmark.

The study, which was presented at a Brain, Therapy and Crafts conference at the University of Haifa, provided 16 sessions for children after cochlear implantation. Eight of the sessions included music-related activities (such as games with percussion instruments, vocal games and listening to simple songs) and the rest involved playing with toys/games without musical sounds.

The exposure to the music was gradual, and the sessions were videotaped and then analyzed. The results showed that during those sessions that included music therapy, the children’s spontaneous communication was markedly more frequent and prolonged.

Relieving the pressure

“Music comprises various elements that are also components of language and therefore as a non-verbal form of communication is suitable for communication with these children, when they are still unable to use language,” says Kerem. “Communicative interactions, especially those initiated by the toddlers, are critical in the development of normal communication, as they are prerequisites for developing and acquiring language.”

Kerem adds that following the implant procedure, toddlers are under a great deal of pressure from parents to begin talking, and they sometimes react to this pressure by becoming introverted. Music therapy can strengthen their nonverbal communication and reduce the pressure to initiate and respond to verbal activity.

“It is important that the parents and staff learn about the best way to expose these children to music, the use of music for communication and the importance of the therapist’s undirected approach,” she says. “Music therapy is gradually penetrating the field of rehabilitation, but there is still a lot of work to be done in improving awareness of this important area.”

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