There is controversy in the Deaf community and in the hearing community over the need for, benefits of, and challenges surrounding cochlear implants. I think the actual controversy is unnecessary—what we need instead is education, understanding, and support of personal decisions. From Pediatric Cochlear Implants: The Great Debate, an article in The Brain & Beyond written by Aviva Weinberg at the University of Pennsylvania—
“The rise and refinement of the cochlear implant, a device meant to correct for sensorineural hearing loss in prelingually deaf children, has faced much debate and criticism. The controversy over this corrective technology has revealed a significant social divide between the hearing and the non-hearing parents of these deaf children. While the hearing parents welcome the implant as an exciting new medical remedy for their children’s deafness, the non-hearing parents reject the implant as a tool of discrimination. The source of this divide seems to lie in two very different operative paradigms for deafness: the pathological and the sociocultural. The hearing parents’ pathological view places deafness as an auditory deficit meant to be repaired, while the non-hearing parents view deafness as a sociocultural identity. Understanding these divergent social perspectives sheds light on the heavy controversy surrounding the cochlear implant and its hopes for future use.”
In other words, there are hearing parents who want to “normalize” their deaf child, and deaf (parents) who fear the loss of their language and culture. My strong and personal opinion is that, regardless of implants or not, every child should learn sign language—hearing and deaf—prior to and during the development of speech. Sign language provides young pre- and non-verbal children with an actual language, a gestural language that does not depend on the complex development of the oral motor mechanism and the vocal chords. Whether hearing or deaf, spoken language might be the ultimate communication of choice, but no one can ask for milk or more music or say their ears hurt as babies, prior to acquisition of speech, unless they can sign! Access to language—exposure to and experience with ASL—provides only benefits. Honestly, there is no downside, and there could be dire need for it down the road. The fact is, not everyone is a candidate for an implant and not everyone with an implant is successful in developing speech, language, and overall hearing acuity.
A very close friend of my older son has a cochlear implant and has had much success. With speech therapy and auditory training, he is able to have “normal” conversations and participate in typical tween activities. He goes to school and summer camp, he plays baseball, he performs in theater… What’s difficult for him is that when he swims or is involved in other water sports—which he loves—or even when he takes a shower, he cannot hear anything. He has to remove his device, as it cannot get wet. So in place of gifts for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, my son’s friend is asking for donations to the NYU Medical Center where his doctor is researching a waterproof device. You can hear about it through his excellent “pitch”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DarLo1jcsUU.
As Matt says, he was a perfect candidate for an implant. My cousin has three boys and her youngest was born with a mild to moderate hearing loss. She was not sure she wanted to have him implanted, but did her research and discovered he was not a candidate. He did get ear molds at a young age and was aided early, received intensive early intervention right away, and they incorporated sign language within his speech therapy as well as throughout their day. You’d never know today that he has a hearing loss (if you don’t see his bright hearing aids, which are quite trendy). I encourage parents not to jump onto the bandwagon for or against cochlear implants without knowing if it will even benefit your child. Here is a website that explains who is a candidate and why, and what is the process that follows. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Cochlear-Implant/.
As a music therapist, I have worked extensively with hearing and Deaf children incorporating sign language. I’d like to share the following article from a music therapist in Israel: Music Therapy Benefits Children with Cochlear Implants. http://matzav.com/israeli-study-music-therapy-helps-deaf-children-with-cochlear-implants. One thing mentioned in this article is that parents who have their children implanted need to realize that it’s not an immediate “fix”—speech therapy and auditory training, sometimes long term, are required to fully benefit.
I encourage you to do your own research and learn more about Cochlear Implants, as well as the benefits of sign language in early childhood with AND without an implant.