Since the majority of their caregivers are hearing and use spoken language, most hearing-impaired infants (HII) are faced with a different language-learning problem than their age-matched hearing (AM) peers. A hearing mismatch occurs when a caregiver and her child receive variant levels of auditory input due to their different hearing abilities. Given that HII do not treat speech as a primary mode of communication, it is possible that their caregivers may exploit non-speech modalities when interacting with their infants—similar to deaf parents of deaf infants. However, due to mismatched hearing statuses, parents of HII may have a difficulty in utilizing the modality that best corresponds with their infants’ abilities.

It is imperative to understand how hearing caregivers interact with their HII in order to explore the most relevant method of communication to enhance infants’ language learning. We video- and audio-recorded play interactions between mothers of HII (4 cochlear implant users; 2 hearing aid users) and mothers of AM peers (6 hearing). Mothers were given three toys and asked to play with their child, “as they would at home.” We measured pitch, duration, and intensity in their production of the names of the toys. We also measured the number and types of touches mothers produced. Results revealed that mothers of HII and AM peers had very similar measures for pitch, duration, and intensity. However, the number and type of touches were distinct: HII were touched more than three times more frequently than AM peers. Thus, findings from this study suggest that mothers of HII may exploit non-speech modalities when they have a hearing mismatch with their child.