Although the cochlear implant was initially introduced in the 1970’s, it has not been until recently that it has become a popular option for deaf or hearing impaired individuals who are looking to restore their hearing. The advancements made to the implant over the past five years have contributed to the wide-spread media coverage, the interest in the implant as an option to restore one’s hearing, and the great successes many are having as a result of being implanted. Many moral and ethical issues are now being raised since the implant is becoming such a popular option. You will find that opinions regarding the cochlear implant vary widely among many, including the medical and Deaf community. Some are completely against the implant, while others think it is a true medical miracle. Some believe that the implant is only appropriate for individuals who have had a progressive hearing loss and have gone deaf. Others believe it is a wonderful option for anyone who is hearing impaired. Still others believe it is completely inappropriate for anyone. However, the discussion of the cochlear implant becomes rather intense when speaking about the implantation of children.
Most members of the Deaf community completely oppose the use of the cochlear implant as they feel threatened by this medical miracle. I can understand their argument. People within the Deaf community are proud of their being deaf as they believe God has chosen this for them. They believe their deafness to be a birth right of silence. They do not view deafness as a disability and communicate mainly through the use of sign language. The Deaf culture’s arguments are compelling and interesting.
I have found that all view points regarding the implant are interesting. One’s viewpoint depends upon the perspective and beliefs of the individual. In my opinion, there really is no "right" or "wrong" argument. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The decision "to be" or "not to be" implanted is a personal choice for each family. I believe all immediate family members should be involved in the decision making process. Families must be comfortable with the choice they make and fully understand the implant, how it works, and the rehabilitation process that comes with learning to hear and speak. Indeed, the entire family must be willing to help the implanted individual learn how to speak and listen. This can be a long, long process: a process that requires much patience.
It should also be noted that the cochlear implant is not a quick fix. It is an effective piece of technology that helps hearing impaired individuals. If you choose the implant as your option, this is merely the first step. Once a child is implanted, parents still have many challenges to face: that of finding knowledgeable speech therapists, choosing the right school placement for the child, writing IEP’s, and making sure that the child is meeting goals and is progressing appropriately.
The implant, in my opinion, is not for everyone or every family. For instance, some families may not have the time necessary to help the implanted individual. There are many essential doctor and speech therapy appointments, both pre- and post-implant. Families must be willing to make the time to take the person to appointments. Most implant centers are located in large cities. Sometimes families may have to travel two to three hours one-way to get to an appointment. These appointments are crucial and help aid in the transition period bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds. Furthermore, the implant can be a costly investment. Families must be comfortable with the financial costs they may incur if a family member is implanted. Of course, almost all insurance companies cover a majority of the cost of the implant; however, there will undoubtedly be some costs that won’t be covered by insurance, grants, or other funding. We did much research as a family before making the decision to have Ellie implanted. When we made our decision, we realized the commitment that we were making and were ready to move forward and take this journey.
Because our entire family and unit of friends were hearing, it made sense for us to find a way to help Ellie hear and speak. If the implant had not been successful, we would have done whatever was necessary to adjust and help Ellie learn to communicate in other ways: sign language, cued speech, etc. But it was natural for us to try our native language first.
Before Ellie’s birth, I was a language arts teacher, and as such, realized the importance of a good education and having a strong foundation in the English language. I understood how fundamental and truly vital it is for a child to learn how to read, write, speak and communicate effectively. Possession of these skills is invaluable. Strong communication skills will undoubtedly help one flourish in society. Individuals possessing these skills are afforded more opportunities in life, such as access to information and better paying jobs. Without strong communication skills, individuals face many barriers.
According to many studies and statistics, most deaf people who utilize American Sign Language as their mode of communication and participate in non-oral programs have low reading, writing and language test scores. The typical, deaf high-school graduate has a fourth grade reading level. This is due to the fact that the syntax is very different from that of the English language. Sign language, visually received and gesturally produced, is an intriguing and beautiful form of language; however, it has its own morphology (rules for the creation of words), phonetics (rules for hand shapes) and grammar that are very unlike those found in spoken languages. These facts obviously present huge barriers to becoming fluent in English.
We also understood how important it is for a child to develop these skills early in life. It is well known that there is a small window of opportunity during which a child can develop these skills. If a child does not develop language skills within the first five years of life, his or her progress and success will be greatly affected. We didn’t want that for our daughter.
We wanted to give Ellie every opportunity in the world to flourish and be a productive member of society. Like most parents, we wanted our child to be comfortable and happy. We wanted her to have a positive self-image that would promote positive self-esteem. We understood that a child must have a strong foundation from the beginning, and felt that it was our responsibility to build this foundation for her. As Ellie’s parents, we believed it was up to us to make the decision for her. She is our responsibility, and it is our duty to recognize her needs. We were then and are now her biggest advocates. We care for her more than anyone else in the world possibly could.
From the beginning, we have relied on the support of our close knit family, friends and the medical and professional community to help educate us with regard to our options, provide support, guide and mentor us, teach us, and help us maximize the use of the cochlear implant. Ellie is richly blessed to have such a team of wonderful people who are so greatly committed to her. Together we have supported Ellie and helped her along on her journey "down the road." We continue to face challenges everyday. The implant is not a quick fix, nor does it put an end to the challenges of raising a child. People who argue that a cochlear implanted child can’t run, swim, play on a swing set, participate in sports or live a fulfilled life, haven’t spent time with our daughter. She can run and swim. she can play soccer and basketball. she can swing and go down a slide. She can talk, sign, listen and communicate with others around her. She can listen to music, sing and dance, or take her implant off and be in a world of silence. Ellie has been given a strong foundation and her miraculous story speaks for itself. Ellie has the best of both worlds.