Using Music to Support Language Development in Children with Hearing Loss
July 19, 2021
From a young age, children are exposed to music as a tool for fun and learning. When preschool students are taught the alphabet, they do so by singing their ABC’s. There are songs about the solar system, the sounds that animals make, and how to brush your teeth.
Children with hearing loss, including individuals with a cochlear implant, can also benefit from exposure to music, both as an enjoyable activity and a means for improving their speech and language skills.
How Does Hearing Loss Affect a Child’s Language Development?
When a child experiences temporary or permanent hearing loss at the pre-lingual stage, they are delayed in the process of hearing and learning to understand sounds. There are multiple types of hearing loss that can occur in young children, which may have varying effects on their speech and language development.
affects the outer or middle ear, preventing sound from getting through. Common causes for this type of hearing loss in children include complications related to ear infections and poor Eustachian tube function due to cleft palate. These conditions can often be treated through medication or surgery.
occurs when there is a problem in the way the inner ear or hearing nerve works. Individuals with profound sensorineural hearing loss may decide to get a cochlear implant, an electric device that stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing the recipient to interpret sound and speech through signals.
occurs when sound enters the ear normally, but the brain cannot interpret the sound correctly because of damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve.
In cases where a child regains hearing through surgery or receives a cochlear implant, they often need support from a speech language pathologist (SLP) to address their delay in speech and language development.
“Rehabilitation is very important for children [with hearing loss],” said Johanna Boyer, musicologist and research associate for MED-EL, an organization that focuses on cochlear implant technology. “A delay in speech and language development has other consequences. We often think about reading delays, general communication challenges, and what that means for their social life and their development in school.”
How Can Music Benefit Children With Hearing Loss?
Boyer, who is also a cochlear implant recipient, noted that music can be beneficial to all children in a number of ways. “Communication, language, attention, speech, and language development—music promotes and improves learning these skills,” she said.
Because these skills are often delayed in children with hearing loss, music programs can be a powerful solution for individuals who have experienced hearing loss at a young age, including those who use cochlear implants, Boyer said.
Music can also be a helpful tool for speech language pathologists when working with children experiencing speech and language delays, as it is an engaging way to practice listening and making sounds.
“Music is one aspect of what would be considered a multimodal approach,” said Scott Prath, vice president of Bilinguistics, a speech therapy center in Austin, Texas. “The more senses that we can involve, the more we’re going to be paying attention and enjoying something.”
Research has shown that musical training can improve how children with hearing loss can better understand language and sound.
How Parents Can Include Music in Their Child’s Speech Therapy
Music can be beneficial for children both inside a speech therapy session and at home, Prath said. The following tips can help parents bring music into their children’s normal routine in a meaningful way.
How to Facilitate Collaboration Between Specialists
In some cases, parents may choose to utilize a music therapist—a trained professional who uses musical interventions to achieve individualized goals—in addition to their child’s speech therapy. This can be an opportunity for specialists to collaborate on common goals and can include other specialists a child may work with, such as an occupational therapist.
Collaboration is best facilitated by the parents of the child as they know which goals and strategies are being used in each form of treatment, Prath said.
Parents can do the following to help their child’s providers collaborate on common goals:
Give permission. Providers need consent from the patient or their guardian to share patient information.
Share goals.Tell each provider what goals your child is working on. For example, they may have goals around learning certain word sounds or developing motor skills.
Get advice. Let your providers identify the way these goals may be incorporated into multimodal activities that can be used during sessions and at home.
At-Home Music Activities for Children With Speech and Language Delays
Draw connections. When singing along with your child, you can pair visual items, such as toys or pictures, with keywords or phrases from their favorite songs. For example, use a set of farm animal figurines when listening to “Old McDonald” so they can grab or point to each animal.
Give them a solo. During sing-along time, it can be helpful to leave a pause or a space during certain lyrics so the child has a chance to fill it in. Giving your child the spotlight can help them target speech sounds and stay engaged with the activity.
Make music a routine. Incorporating songs into routine activities (like the “clean-up song”) can benefit your child by establishing routines, making a task more fun, and letting them connect the lyrics with actions.
Band practice. Use pans, bowls, and other household materials as percussion instruments. Let your child experiment with rhythm and sound, and use prompt words like “go fast,” “go slow,” or “play softer” and have them adjust their playing accordingly.
Use a playlist. Curating a selection of songs that suit your child’s interests and language goals is an easy way to make time for music appreciation on a regular basis. Services like Spotify and Youtube are two potential platforms you can use.