Semantic and syntactic reading comprehension strategies used by deaf children with early and late cochlear implantation

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Deaf students have traditionally exhibited reading comprehension difficulties. In recent years, these comprehension problems have been partially offset through cochlear implantation (CI), and the subsequent improvement in spoken language skills. However, the use of cochlear implants has not managed to fully bridge the gap in language and reading between normally hearing (NH) and deaf children, as its efficacy depends on variables such as the age at implant. This study compared the reading comprehension of sentences in 19 children who received a cochlear implant before 24 months of age (early-CI) and 19 who received it after 24 months (late-CI) with a control group of 19 NH children. The task involved completing sentences in which the last word had been omitted. To complete each sentence children had to choose a word from among several alternatives that included one syntactic and two semantic foils in addition to the target word. The results showed that deaf children with late-CI performed this task significantly worse than NH children, while those with early-CI exhibited no significant differences with NH children, except under more demanding processing conditions (long sentences with infrequent target words). Further, the error analysis revealed a preference of deaf students with early-CI for selecting the syntactic foil over a semantic one, which suggests that they draw upon syntactic cues during sentence processing in the same way as NH children do. In contrast, deaf children with late-CI do not appear to use a syntactic strategy, but neither a semantic strategy based on the use of key words, as the literature suggests. Rather, the numerous errors of both kinds that the late-CI group made seem to indicate an inconsistent and erratic response when faced with a lack of comprehension. These findings are discussed in relation to differences in receptive vocabulary and short-term memory and their implications for sentence reading comprehension.
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Gallego, C., Martín-Aragoneses, M. T., López-Higes, R., & Pisón, G. (2016). Semantic and syntactic reading comprehension strategies used by deaf children with early and late cochlear implantation. Research in developmental disabilities, 49, 153-170.