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Executive Function and
Children with Hearing Loss.

Posted: 24th July 2017

DeafHear Executive Function and Children with Hearing Loss.

A recent article published by the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College, London looks at how some Deaf and Hard of Hearing children can sometimes struggle with their ‘mental control’, known as executive function.

The article also provides some simple ideas for parents and professionals looking to support their children’s development in this area. We provide a short summary here, and you can download the full article below.

What is executive function?

The authors explain that the ability to focus or concentrate, to hold and manipulate information in our minds, filter or ignore distractions, or switch between tasks can be likened to an air traffic control system at a busy airport, constantly dealing with the arrival and departure of airplanes. The air traffic control system in our brains is known as ‘executive function’ (EF), and involves a set of skills that includes working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility – skills that help us control our behaviour and plan ahead.

These skills are not only crucial for learning, but also for developing physical and mental well–being.

Do deaf children have executive funtion difficulties?

DCAL researchers studied a group of Deaf and Hard of Hearing children (aged 6–11 years) over two years, and while they found that the group’s EF improved, they performed less well than their hearing peers, especially on tasks related to working memory. (Working memory includes information we have stored that we have heard or seen. Children with hearing loss are often at a disadvantage… as they may be accessing and storing less information, which in turn may impact on new learning).

The authors also found that expressive language was a key predictor for EF, ‘suggesting that language is crucial for EF development’. They point out that language is thought to provide the building blocks for the develoment of cognitive skills, and vocabularly is important to be able to name and express experiences and understand new concepts.

DeafHear Executive Function and Children with Hearing Loss.How can parents improve their children’s EF?

The good news is that EF is learned, and there are simple and practical things parents and teachers can do to support the development of EF in children.

‘Scaffolding’ is a technique where complex tasks are broken down into simple steps to help the child complete the task successfully. As the child masters the task, the ‘scaffold’ is gradually withdrawn.

‘Self talk’ is a way in which young children help themselves to ‘think through’ what they are doing. Encouraging children with hearing loss to ‘self talk’ (e.g. by naming what they are doing/thinking/ feeling) helps them work out problems and avoid impulsive behaviours.

The authors also suggest some simple games that support working memory:

  • The card game ‘UNO’ is good for cognitive flexibility, as childrn need to switch between coloured and numbered cards.
  • The game ‘Concentration’ requires children to match pairs of cards that are face down. This helps working memory skills, and encourages turntaking and strategising.
  • ‘Simon Says’ is a fun game that encourages inhibitory control skills. Children are instructed to perform tasks or actions, but must only do so if ‘Simon Says’!




Want to know more?
The full article is available to download here:

DCAL Briefing Exec Function 2017

Download File
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