How does visual language affect crossmodal plasticity and cochlear implant success?

C R Lyness, B Woll, R Campbell, V Cardin

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Cochlear implants (CI) are the most successful intervention for ameliorating hearing loss in severely or profoundly deaf children. Despite this, educational performance in children with CI continues to lag behind their hearing peers. From animal models and human neuroimaging studies it has been proposed the integrative functions of auditory cortex are compromised by crossmodal plasticity. This has been argued to result partly from the use of a visual language. Here we argue that 'cochlear implant sensitive periods' comprise both auditory and language sensitive periods, and thus cannot be fully described with animal models. Despite prevailing assumptions, there is no evidence to link the use of a visual language to poorer CI outcome. Crossmodal reorganisation of auditory cortex occurs regardless of compensatory strategies, such as sign language, used by the deaf person. In contrast, language deprivation during early sensitive periods has been repeatedly linked to poor language outcomes. Language sensitive periods have largely been ignored when considering variation in CI outcome, leading to ill-founded recommendations concerning visual language in CI habilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2621-2630
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number10 Pt 2
Early online date30 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Cochlear implant
  • Deafness
  • Functional decoupling
  • Crossmodal reorganisation
  • Delayed/insecure language acquisition

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