Project leader

Université libre de Bruxelles

Do you want to join our effort to optimise the communication with, and the social inclusion of children with hearing impairment?

Do you want to start a PhD in an excellent scientific institution, with attractive complementary training activities in medical and technological research as well as in neuropsychology and speech therapy?

Then have a look at our last open positions at the KU Leuven!

Application deadline: June, 30th.

The World Health Assembly adopted a 2017 resolution recognising Hearing Impairment (HI) as a priority worldwide health issue. Children with HI present significant risks for language acquisition, educational achievement, socio-emotional development, and well-being. Current intervention plans fail to prepare those children for academic achievement and social participation in contemporary society where the diversity of their needs is increasing. Comm4CHILD is a consortium implementing an innovative approach for optimising the communicative skills and social inclusion of children with HI. Comm4CHILD addresses the large inter-individual heterogeneity in brain plasticity, cognitive resources, and linguistic abilities, and takes full advantage of this heterogeneity to support efficient communicative skills in children with HI. A group of 15 early stage researchers (ESRs) will be trained in research and intervention in a cross-sectoral way. ESRs individual research projects are conceptualized within three main projects, or work packages: biology (i.e. anatomical variations of the cochlea and cerebral functional reorganisation), cognition (i.e. working memory, multimodal integration in communication), and language (i.e. inter-individual differences in speech intelligibility and spelling ability). These projects are further described below, and all individual ESR projects can be found in the “project” section. The work of the ESRs will

  1. enhance mapping of the factors underlying heterogeneity
  2. advance the understanding of the predictors of linguistic communicative skills
  3. develop new intervention methods.

The ESRs will become the “paediatric hearing care entrepreneurs” of the future, thanks to the collaborations between academic, industrial, clinical, and community-based partners. The output of this unique consortium is expected to have an impact across all aspects of HI children’s everyday life. Specifically, Comm4CHILD will provide a significantly improved understanding of communicative and social skills that will underpin the development of innovative future treatment and rehabilitation measures.

Comm4CHILD is a European project under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement n°860755 within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program

Project 1 - Biological diversity in plasticity and adaptation

The aim of the first topic is to understand outcome variations in individuals with HI following therapy, where a number of treated children do not meet the expectations of the clinicians. The reasons for this variability are unknown. Along with peripheral factors (e.g. individual size of the cochlea, binaural vs. monaural hearing) also central factors play a cardinal role. The extent and limits of brain plasticity in children and the available brain resources will directly influence the outcome of auditory restoration and are a likely factor of variability. One particular focus will be the role of hearing and the consequences of hearing impariment for mutual integration of sensory inputs and the cognitive adaptations, as well as the relationship between individual variations and outcome variability. The first project will concentrate on biological (mechanistic) processes underlying this outcome variability at the peripheral and central level.

The main beneficiary of the project Biological diversity in plasticity and adaptation is the Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, with Andrej Kral acting as supervisor. The work topics for ESR will be supervised by HörSys, the KU Leuven, the University Linköping, and OTIC, as well as the partner organisation Centre Hospitalier Brugmann. The four tasks focus on different aspects of neuronal plasticity in hearing impairment: peripheral constraints on auditory learning (Topic 1.1 & Topic 1.2), cellular mechanism of cross-modal plasticity in animal models (Topic 1.3), and systemic effects in children (Topic 1.2 & Topic 1.4). Using this approach, the first project may assess the plastic reorganisations at all levels and by that will allow an excellent insight into the topics to all ESRs involved in the programme.

Project 2 - Multimodality and optimisation of cognitive resources

Cognitive listening effort in adverse conditions is increasingly conceived as a crucial component of speech communication and language learning. Project 2 will explore various means to make communication easier and help children with HI to optimise their cognitive resources for interaction and learning. Multimodality is a primary means to provide enhanced input, associating the degraded auditory input to vision (for both lipreading and spatial hearing, and with the possible addition of manual linguistic cues) but also somatosensory information on the speaker’s gestures. Various tools for cognitive training together with innovative speech technologies will also be explored to enhance communication and learning.

The project Multimodality and optimisation of cognitive resources involves six tasks exploring various facets of multimodal speech communication, cognitive training, and evaluation of software and human-machine technologies.

This project will be lead by Jean-Luc Schwartz at the CNRS-GIPSA lab, Université Grenoble-Alpes. The Comm4CHILD beneficiaries Centre Comprendre et Parler, CNRS-GIPSA, KU Leuven, Lingköping University, OTIC, and Université libre de Bruxelles as well as the partner organisations HUDERF and IVèS will contribute to project 2. Topic 2.1 and 2.2 will study manual gestures in CS in speech comprehension and in speech production. In Topic 2.3-2.5, the researchers will explore various tools for cognitive evaluation and cognitive enhancement, aiming at enhancing the abilities of children with hearing impairment – and also deaf-blind children – to monitor listening effort in adverse conditions, facilitate communication and improve learning. The researcher working on Topic 2.6 will develop augmented communication systems and algorithmic tools related to sign language or audio-visual speech.

Project 3 - Environment and enhancement of language skills

Nowadays, children with hearing impairment are likely to be exposed to a variety of communicative situations and to use a diversity of communication approaches and strategies for interaction in different environmental contexts. Project 3 will evaluate how individual language and learning resources (i.e. verbal and non-verbal cognitive abilities, communication strategies) affect spoken and written communication and facilitate daily-life interaction according to the opportunities and constraints of the communicative environment (i.e. multilinguistic and multicultural settings, interactional support within the family). Moreover, in the project Environment and enhancement of language skills, researchers will examine how such diverse language skills and communicative repertoires can be assessed.

Project 3 will be lead the Université libre de Bruxelles. The contributing beneficiaries will be the Centre Comprendre et Parler, the CNRS-LPNC lab at the Université Grenoble-Alpes, and the University of Leeds. The partner organisations involved are the Bradford Teaching Hospitals and the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Grenoble Alpes. Five tasks, focusing on different aspects of communication skills in children with hearing impairment, will be undertaken. The first two tasks deal with online communication in multilinguistic, multicultural, and multisensory environments, combining studies and evaluation of daily-life interactions and language repertoires (Topic 3.1 & Topic 3.2). The next two tasks are focused on spelling (Topic 3.3) and intelligibility (Topic 3.4) skills and on their potential predictors. Finally, Topic 3.5 will assess speech perception in relation to sensory-motor interactions and familial support.