An intervention approach to stimulate early speech development in toddlers with cochlear implants.

Typically developing infants produce increasingly more complex and speech-like vocalizations during their first two years of life (Oller, 1980; Stark, 1980; Vihman, 1996). This prelinguistic process serves a foundation for the development of meaningful speech. Improved hearing sensitivity and speech perception may enable toddlers with cochlear implants to make comparable gains in vocal development. Thus, their prelingusitic experiences also serves as a foundation for later speech and language learning. Whereas some implanted children may make rapid gains in vocal development after implantation, others may need a structured intervention program to stimulate early speech development (Ertmer, Young, Grohne, Mellon, Johnson, Corbett, and Saindon, 2002).

The following sections describe Short Periods of Prelinguistic Input (SPPI), a structured intervention approach for stimulating vocal development in young children with cochlear implants (Ertmer, et al., 2002). The central beliefs of SPPI are

1) Young children with cochlear implants who produce a wide variety of prelinguistic vocalizations will make more rapid gains in developing language and speech systems than those who have limited experience in producing prelinguistic vocalizations. This hypothesis is currently being examined by Ertmer and colleagues and is based on preliminary research findings that indicate that young implanted children progress through levels of vocal development similar to those of typically developing infants (Ertmer, 2002; Ertmer & Mellon, 2001; McCaffery, Davis, MacNeilage, and von Hapsburg, 1999).

2) Parents and clinicians can stimulate early vocal development by modeling and reinforcing prelinguistic vocalizations. This belief has been supported by research indicating that young children’s vocalizations can be influenced by short periods of concentrated modeling of isolated vowels (Kuhl & Meltzoff, 1996).

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