Sign Exposure Supports Temporal Sequence Processing in Deaf Children

Terhune-Cotter, B. , Hauser, P. & Dye, M.

Rochester Institute of Technology

In order to achieve behavioral goals, actions must be executed in appropriate sequences, requiring storage, maintenance and retrieval of temporal sequential representations. In humans, temporal sequence processing is considered to be supported by the auditory system. Accordingly, research has reported temporal deficits in deaf individuals, and studies of sequence processing in deaf children have led to the proposal that cochlear implantation will mitigate these deficits. An alternative hypothesis suggests that hearing-related deficits arise due to a lack of exposure to natural language. Here, we report longitudinal data from 103 deaf children aged 6-13 years. They were given tasks requiring sequence-processing skills: single target identification in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP), and a continuous performance task (CPT). Multilevel models revealed that children varied in their initial scores, but not in change of scores over time, indicating that task-relevant skills are well-developed before age 10 years. Sign language skill and auditory experience did not explain variability in RSVP performance, but both predicted better overall performance on the CPT task, with stronger signers also improving at a faster rate. The fact that signing skill was a stronger predictor than auditory experience suggests that language skill may support development of sequence processing abilities.