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The Big Question: When Your Child Asks About Cochlear Implants

By Lindsay Hutton

The Big Question: When Your Child Asks About Cochlear Implants

No matter what the nature of child’s hearing loss, it’s very likely that at some point in their early childhood, they will ask about the possibility of their hearing being permanently “fixed.” Cochlear implants have seen a surge in the past 20 years, with over 125,000 implants occurring in the past 20 years in Canada and the US. Surgery involving cochlear implants can work well for some types of hearing loss, and less well or not at all for other types. For those children that cochlear implants are a possibility, how can parents best navigate the process of evaluating if and when the procedure should occur?

Know The Facts

According to Widex’s support team, after responding to a question from a young man who wanted to hear “normally” without the use of hearing aids, your best bet is to start by having some frank discussions with your child’s audiologist and ear/nose/throat doctor. Ask the hard questions: what do the stats say about my child’s type of hearing loss and the success of the implant? What are the risks, and the chances of those risks presenting? Ask for a reading list on the subject, and do your homework.

The Ethical Back-and-Forth

Some studies suggest that children who are deaf/HH with cochlear implants fare better in communication and speech than children who do not have the procedure. Still others suggest that cochlear implants are not necessarily the right choice for everyone, and there is an ever-growing sphere of educational methods and resources created to better address the needs of children who do not have cochlear implants.

“There can be a lot pressure from the medical community to immediately get cochlear implants for your child,” says Laurie, whose son Liam received bilateral cochlear implants at 18 months. “Though I don’t necessarily regret our decision – Liam is doing amazingly well. We were told that we were denying Liam a lot of opportunity if we didn’t go through with it. I know now that’s not necessarily the case for every kid.”

Is The “Fix” The Real Question?

It’s important to consider the fact that the reason your child wants a cochlear implant may be that they see it as a “fix” to feeling alienated by their peers because of their hearing loss.

“It wasn’t until Kate started getting teased a little by some friends last year that she even brought up surgery; we [her parents] wanted to wait until she was a little older to broach the subject,” says Scott of Victoria, whose 12-year-old daughter was born with profound hearing loss and uses hearing aids. “All of a sudden she hated her hearing aids, she just wanted to ‘fix [her] stupid ears already.’ That was pretty heartbreaking.”

Kids will be kids. Though huge gains have been made in terms of access to technologies for deaf/HH children, it’s rare to find anyone who hasn’t experienced at least a little bullying because of difference. No matter what the outcome of the decision to have cochlear implants, it is dangerous for your child’s self worth to be solely hinged on his or her hearing ability.

“We talked to her a lot about it; we tried to tell her the reason why she was being bullied was more about the other kids not understanding or being familiar with hearing aids,” says Scott. “But we’re still considering it as a family, we’re reading a lot about it and talking to some other families. It’s Kate’s choice, and we’ll honour it if she chooses to go through with it.”

The (Not-So) Final Word

Whatever the technology, and whatever the nature of your child’s hearing loss, the most important things are to keep yourself informed, and get in touch with other families who have navigated a similar path.

*For advice about cochlear implants, talk to your doctor and audiologist. To connect with other families with children who are deaf/HH, please visit VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children.