Before my visit to a school for the deaf on my East Coast book tour to promote my children’s title, Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy, I hardly knew anything about the subject of deaf literacy. However, since that life-changing day,when I decided to do something on behalf of this issue, I now understand the complexity of the issue, especially for parents of deaf children. Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make as the parent of a deaf child is which method of communication is best for your child. If you’ve decided that your child should join the 219,000 deaf people worldwide who have opted for cochlear implants along with deaf oral education so that they can use spoken language, the issue of timing comes up: when is the best time for your child to get the cochlear implants becomes an issue?
As the parent of a deaf child, it’s likely that you yourself are hearing and that the deaf world is new to you. After all, 90% of deaf children have hearing parents. That means there’s a lot to learn. If you’re interested in getting your young child cochlear implants, you’ve likely chosen this because you’d like your child to have the same opportunitities, educational and professional, as hearing children and adults. As your child becomes better and better with spoken language, you’ll find that he or she is able to attend the same regular classes and participate in the same activities as most of his or her peers. In this way, cochlear implants can be an exciting prospect with the promise of a bright future for your deaf child.
Now the question of “When?” arises. When is the best time for your child to get cochlear implantation surgery? According to research, early implantation allows for earlier exposure to sounds during the critical speech-learning period for children. According to Bella Online, most children are between the ages of 2 and 6 when they get their implants. In the U.S. in 2000, the age requirement for one of the types of cochlear implants was lowered to 12 months.
Is this too young? According to Bella Online, research is showing that “an overwhelmingly majority” of deaf children who don’t have any other health issues see an enhancement in their quality of life as a result of their cochlear implants: “The earlier the implantation the more likely the child will develop hearing, speech, language and cognitive skills at a level similar to a normal hearing child.” In addition to having the same educational and career opportunities, these children are easier to handle by their parents, fit in better socially, able to do activities like using a phone or going to the movies. Science Daily reports that in one study, “the children who received cochlear implants at the youngest ages have nearly the same spoken language skills as children with normal hearing.” Other unpublished studies show that by the age of 4 and a half years old, early implantation children have normal speech and could most likely start school with their hearing peers.
Deciding whether or not to go with cochlear implants is a complex decision, however, that requires time and research. Just as with any surgical procedure, there are risks. Parents may also be hesitant to have their small child undergo such an intensive procedure, and understandably. Moreover, once the procedure is done, the parts of the ear involved in hearing are permanently destroyed so that natural hearing will never take place. Deaf oral education and auditory-verbal therapy are also time-intensive, requiring the participation of the entire family. By the time your child has been correctly diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing, you’ve done your research, and come up with the funds for the operation, your child may be well into his toddler years or older.
As a children’s author and child and family advocate, I’m often asked for advice on all sorts of issues. Although I do lecture, speak, and write on a variety of subjects related to children, I always reassure parents that they are ultimately responsible for their child and know what’s best for him or her. Study the facts, seek professional advice from as many qualified specialists as possible, and consider what’s best for your child. The facts are showing that early implantation is highly effective in establishing language and speaking skills in deaf children, but the decision to go ahead with this is highly involved and will affect your child and your family from here on out.