Two years ago, I barely knew what a cochlear implant was. But now, as a mom of a child with a cochlear implant, I’m more aware of the research, controversy and communication plans that go into such a decision. As we approach International Cochlear Implant Day on February 25, my son, Cooper, will have had his cochlear implants just shy of eight months.
Here’s a bit about how we decided to choose bilateral cochlear implants for our son, and what has happened since.
Most parents wouldn’t have their child undergo a surgical procedure without learning about it first, but this goes deeper than that. Aside from listening to your medical team’s suggestions and asking questions for clarification, you should take matters into your own hands as well.
Use the Internet, social media, and local groups to connect with parents of deaf children. Talk to them and ask them what they wish they had known, and what went into their own decision-making process. What I’ve come to realize is that you will never regret learning too much about something, but you will regret not knowing enough.
“What I’ve come to realize is that you will never regret learning too much about something, but you will regret not knowing enough.”
If, after your preliminary research, you choose to move forward in the process, the next step will be determining if your child would benefit from a cochlear implant. In order for cochlear implants to work, an auditory nerve has to be present. This is determined by undergoing an MRI for imaging. For babies, this is a more lengthy test for adults because the child has to be sedated. Typically you will receive the results within a few days.
Before going full steam ahead with implantation, it’s important to understand every perspective about the technology and culture behind deafness. Unfortunately, there is a lot of controversy and judgment surrounding cochlear implants for children. While it’s not necessarily an enjoyable path to go down, it’s essential to understand exactly why cochlear implants can be controversial.
What it comes down to is that children lack the ability to consent to a life-changing procedure. While adults can make the choice for themselves, the reality is that parents of children with cochlear implants are faced with a difficult decision when it comes to whether or not implantation is the best route. Because children do not have the ability to make that decision on their own, questions of consent are often raised. Some members of the Deaf community will say they resent their parents for making that choice, or that they are glad their parents chose not to implant. These opinions shouldn’t sway your decision, but it’s still vital to understand.
What’s important to point out here is that waiting for a child to be old enough to consent to the surgery means missing out on vital time. For any child, the first three years of life play a huge role in language development. This is even more true for a child with cochlear implants. Professionals strongly recommend implantation before 18 months for the best developmental outcomes.
Able-hearing parents likely want to speak to their child, which is possible with cochlear implants. However, cochlear implants are not an immediate adjustment for the child. Choosing cochlear implants for your child means putting the hard work on them. But since it is early in their development, their brains are more easily able to adjust and rewire than they would be later in life.
While we chose implantation for our son, we also chose to learn and use American Sign Language. We wanted to open him up to our world but also make the effort to be a part of his. Even for children without hearing loss, sign language is beneficial. Babies can often pick up on it and sign back before they can verbalize their desires. Choosing to take a verbal and sign approach was daunting at first, but over time it’s just become normal and routine. And honestly, it’s so fun to see your child make the connection between signs and words.
Read more: How to learn sign language
There’s a difference between doing your research thoroughly and being impacted by outside opinions. It’s important to understand the various opinions around cochlear implants so that as a parent, you are prepared for potential backlash. But what other people think about early implantation should not make or break your ultimate decision. As a parent, you know what the best fit for your family would be. You know the amount of effort you are willing and able to put into language acquisition. You know what your gut is telling you, which is more than anyone else can ever offer. Take the experiences of others to heart, but don’t lean the entirely of your choice on them.
As I stated before, each family’s situation is uniquely theirs. Early on in this process of making a decision to get a CI for your baby, it may feel like you are being put in an impossible position as a parent. But the truth is that parents make choices for their kids every single day. What it comes down to is caring enough to make the decision an educated one. As long as you’ve done that, there is no right or wrong decision.