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Faculty & Staff Honors

South Carolina Faculty Member Extends Study on Language and Literacy Acquisition among Children with Hearing Loss with $3.3 Million Grant

Communication sciences and disorders (COMD) assistant professor Dr. Krystal Werfel has been awarded a $3,267,388, five-year R01 grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Dr. Werfel, who is located in the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, will use the award to support the continuation of an existing project, Early Language and Literacy Acquisition in Children with Hearing Loss, that was funded by an R03 grant from the same organization.

In the R03 project, which began in 2015, Dr. Werfel compared language and literacy acquisition of children with hearing loss to children with normal hearing over the preschool years (ages 4-6). The new grant will allow Dr. Werfel and collaborator Dr. Emily Lund of Texas Christian University to continue following this cohort through elementary school and enroll new children at the preschool level to allow adequate comparisons between children with hearing loss who use hearing aids and those who use cochlear implants.

“Children with hearing loss, even those who use amplification devices, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, and develop spoken English are at very high risk for reading and writing impairment,” explains Dr. Werfel. “These low literacy skills lead to low educational outcomes, low numbers of students with hearing loss who seek and obtain higher education, and under- or unemployment as adults.”

Dr. Werfel, who joined the Arnold School’s COMD department in 2013, conducts research that aims to reveal the development of emergent literacy skills in children with hearing loss and how these foundational skills influence later reading and writing achievement. Dr. Lund brings expertise in early word learning and the impact of lexical-semantic on early literacy skills to the project. Their goal is to turn their findings into practical guidance for helping children with hearing loss acquire literacy skills at the preschool level and beyond.

According to NIDCD, two or three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. Previous research has shown that despite technological advances in amplification for children with hearing loss, literacy achievement for this population has not increased over the past several decades.

Further, all degrees of hearing loss have been shown to have an adverse impact of reading outcomes ability. The fact that more than 90 percent of children are born to hearing parents compounds the call for research from the scientific community in order to provide essential support to this underserved population.

“There is a critical need to develop methods of identifying which children with hearing loss in the preschool years are most at-risk for later deficits so that high-impact intervention can be initiated as early as possible,” says Dr. Werfel.

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