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Improving language skills in children with hearing loss by developing a parent-delivered training programme based on Theory-of-Mind skills

Project Description

Hearing loss is the most prevalent sensory deficit experienced by children. In the UK alone, more than 45000 children have a hearing loss. Often, it is managed via the prescription and fitting of hearing devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants. Hearing loss, especially when it occurs early in life, can greatly affect development – not only of speech and language but also of cognitive functions. One cognitive function that appears to be closely intertwined with language development is Theory of Mind (ToM). ToM is the ability to correctly attribute mental states such as beliefs, intents, desires, and emotions to oneself and to others and it is fundamentally important for the social functioning of an individual. ToM skills can be differentiated into earlier (diverse beliefs and desires) and later skills (false beliefs, hiding of emotions). Given the challenges the presence of deafness brings to communicating it is not surprising that the development of ToM has the potential for delay in deaf children.

Whilst we know that ToM development is generally affected by hearing loss, many of details of this relationship are still unclear. In this project we would like to investigate the roles of such potentially important factors such as age of identification of hearing impairment (HI), the severity of the HI, mode of treatment, the fluency in other modes of communication (e.g., sign language), additional disabilities to the development of basic and advanced ToM skills. In a second step we will explore potential routes to intervention and seek to develop and validate a parent-delivered training programme to improve those ToM skills that have been found most lacking in hearing-impaired children.

The PhD project will be conducted in four phases: 1) a review of the literature, 2) a cross-sectional study of the developmental trajectory of ToM skills in normal-hearing and hearing-impaired children of different ages; 3) development of ToM skills training programme; 4) evaluation of effectiveness of training programme by measuring post-training improvements of ToM skills and qualitative analysis of parental diaries.

This project is situated within the University of Manchester’s Centre for Audiology and Deafness (ManCAD). ManCAD is the premier UK centre for hearing loss research, education and service provision and has a well-established track-record of improving the lives of individuals with hearing loss, and of publication of high impact research studies on hearing and deafness in individuals across the lifespan in internationally-leading journals. It also contains the UK’s premier centre for the training of Teachers of the Deaf and the development of innovative interventions in everyday contexts

Weblink to the research group:

This PhD will suit you if you have a background in audiology, hearing science, psychology, Special Education, medical/clinical science or related discipline. Ideally, you with have a first class undergraduate degree and a postgraduate qualification that included a research project e.g., MSc or MRes. Evidence of research output (e.g., peer-reviewed publication, newsletter article, conference presentation) would be advantageous.

Entry Requirements:

The project is suitable if you require excellent research training, in a stimulating and active environment, in order to become an independent, international researcher. It will also be suitable to you if you are a health professional whose career aspirations involve a combination of research with clinical activities.

Good writing skills will be essential.

Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


1. Chilton, H. (2017). Tricks, lies and mistakes: identifying Theory of Mind concepts within storybooks shared with deaf children. Deafness and Education International, 19(2), 75-83
2. Hutchins, T.L., Allen L. & Schefer M. (2017) Using the theory of mind inventory to detect a broad range of theory of mind challenges in children with hearing loss: a pilot study, Deafness & Education International, 19:1, 2-12
3. Westby C, Robinson L. A developmental perspective for promoting Theory of Mind. Topics in Language Disorders 2014:34(4):362-382

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