I hadn’t planned to write about it, but I feel like I can’t be silent (pun may be intended, but my subconscious isn’t telling me) about this issue.

Before I dive into what I hope will be a short post, let me preface this with a statement: I am not against cochlear implants.

Background image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Background image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In fact, I have one, though the processor has been broken for a decade and I have yet to replace it. I may one day. I haven’t decided if it would be worth the hassle, even though it worked extremely well for me. So well, indeed, that I could use the phone to communicate with some people.

But this post isn’t really about me using my cochlear implant, though I will draw on that experience.

This post is for parents of deaf children who have cochlear implants.

I am not judging your choice to get your child implanted. I understand why that choice is made. I’m not going to get into the debate over whether kids should get cochlear implants at all, because I have extremely mixed feelings about this.

The reason I am writing about cochlear implants is that I have seen too many instances over the years of parents being convinced that getting the cochlear implant was “the answer.” As in, the complete “answer” to  whatever they want to call the fact that their children are deaf.

These parents, who absolutely do mean well, usually do not have an accurate picture of their implanted children’s actual ability to understand what they are hearing. They think: my child has a cochlear implant, so she understands speech now.

Or some version of that. They think the kids no longer need to rely on ASL, as if relying on it were a bad thing. Sometimes I even see parents that are already fluent in ASL choosing to stop using ASL with their implanted kids. As if that’s the way these kids are going to understand even more.

It doesn’t work that way. It really doesn’t. I know there are exceptions, but this is a sink-or-swim approach. You are throwing your kids into the water and expecting them to learn to swim well.

Look, maybe YOUR kid is one of the few that understand speech very well without the added support of ASL. What if he or she isn’t? We are sometimes excellent, and I mean EXCELLENT, at faking our ability to understand a hearing person. Especially when we think the hearing person’s going to be frustrated if we do not understand.

I write all this as someone who really can get a lot of benefit with my cochlear implant. When it works, I understand quite a bit, especially if I can lip-read someone. With one, I function like a hard of hearing person. Without it, I am as deaf as anyone else is.

But it’s like this, at least for me:

  • NO ASL, just the CI use over the phone: I’ll understand about 25%
  • NO ASL, just the CI in person and no lipreading: I’ll understand about 33%
  • CI in person with some lipreading: I’ll understand 80% (and I am an excellent lipreader)
  • CI in person with no lipreading, but ASL: I’ll understand 100% because of the ASL, and the CI’s gonna give me an added layer of sensory input that I don’t actually need, but may appreciate.
  • ASL only: I’ll understand 100%

I understand this is me, it’s not everyone. But I am asking you, on behalf of your kids, to take the time and really assess your child’s actual ability to understand what is being communicated. Figure out exactly how much is being understood with the CI alone and with added support like ASL.

If you’re not sure or you’re not able to assess this, then find a professional who can. And watch out for those tricks we have up our sleeves. I used to press the button in the soundproof room at my audiologist’s office every time she looked at me, not when I heard anything. Don’t you think that’s going to skew the results?

In the end, what is important is communication. In my view, it should be 100% on average. If this means you’ve got a kid with a cochlear implant that you also always sign ASL to AND you give them added support with lipreading if they want or need that, so be it.

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