For the deaf and hard of hearing community, speech acquisition and language development can be an unforeseen complication in children during their most formative years. Relying on the ability to communicate and make meaningful connections between sounds, language and vocabulary development can be hindered when hearing is impaired, making it difficult for our youngest patients to participate in social interactions and learn crucial developmental skills. As 2 out of every 100 children are experiencing varying degrees of hearing loss, the need for new methods of helping children reach their developmental potential has never been higher. Fortunately, Finnish researchers from the University of Helsinki have compiled new guidelines for utilizing music to support the development of spoken language with positive results.
Suffering from minimal to severe hearing loss, language development in children can be an insurmountable challenge. Understanding sounds from their environment, recognizing speech from other people, and forming sentence structures can be complicated and challenging hurdles that have long term ramifications for a child’s development. Without these abilities, children can find difficulty in assigning meaning to words and recognizing differences between words with dual meanings such as “Leaves” or “Right”, hindering their language acquisition, vocabulary expansion, and social participation. When children are isolated from social interaction, internalized and externalized behaviors ranging from depression and anxiety to violent behavior can quickly manifest, furthering the importance of finding a solution.
Focusing on developing guidelines to help parents of children with hearing impairments, early childhood education providers, teachers, speech therapists and other rehabilitators of children with hearing disabilities, researchers Ritva Torppa and Minna Huotilainen had found music had “helped children’s perception of prosody, such as rhythm and pitch variation, and spoken language.” While attempting to develop a music playschool designed for children using a cochlear implant, Torppa had noticed positively groundbreaking results. Music, especially singing, Torppa found directly benefits the brain and spoken language of children with hearing loss.
This finding is mirrored in other studies as well, finding that music is similar to the pitch, tempo, and timbre of speech children will encounter on a daily basis. “These skills make children’s lives easier,” Torppa’s study explains. “Listening to the speech, for example, in noisy surroundings becomes less stressful while communicating with others and absorbing information in school and everyday life also becomes easier.” This reduction in stress is critical to our youngest community, as depression and social isolation caused by these stressful encounters can further compound the problem.
Utilizing music in education has been found to benefit all students with language disorders Huotilainen explains, “music also gives every child and young person a voice of their own, a channel for self-expression and the chance to be heard.” With evidence showing the clear connection between music and benefits to language development in children with hearing loss, Torppa and Huotilainen hope that music will begin to be incorporated in basic education in the near future, protecting the right to a high-quality education for all students, regardless of their disability.