however, aren't the only ones debating the issues surrounding
the cochlear implant. Some deaf and hard of hearing peopleas
well as some hearing educators and family members take
issue with the increasingly widespread use of the cochlear
implant, particularly in young children. Their concerns are
as diverse as the 28 million Americans who are deaf or hard
implantation requires invasive surgery
the procedure itself is an invasive surgery and implanting
the device destroys any residual hearing, committing the patient
to the implant and forever removing the option of using a
hearing aid. Most doctors schedule the procedure as soon as
possible in young children to increase their odds of acquiring
oral language skills. But some deaf advocates worry that hearing
parents may wind up making a choice their deaf children would
not have made for themselves.
Shannon compares an ineffective implant to a pair of
glasses with the wrong prescription.
is easier for the general public to imagine what it is like
to be blind ranther than deaf," says Nancy J. Bloch, executive
director of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in
Silver Spring, Maryland. "Not until recently has the media
been more balanced in their portrayal of the deaf and hard
of hearing, countering the traditional view of deafness as
view of hearing loss as pathological is at the heart of the
cochlear controversy. On the extreme end, some deaf advocates
who communicate only via sign language and shun any attempt
to learn oral language, view the device as a threat to their
unique, sign-language-based culture. But even to those with
far more moderate views, the cochlear implant is a symbol
of the hearing world's desire to "fix" deaf people. "We don't
take a position on the cochlear implant," says Bloch of the
NAD's inclusive policies.
simply ask parents to take all factors into consideration,
and we encourage the acquisition and use of signwhich
doesn't necessarily exclude the acquisition of hearing and
with and without the cochlear implant benefit from using
American Sign Language
deaf and hard of hearing groups also worry that the image
of them as broken or sick erodes their civil rights and complicates
deaf children's education by appearing to be the easy solution
to the "problem" of being deaf.
parents will go the speech/hearing route to the exclusion
of sign," says Bloch. "We feel this is a mistake. Deaf and
hard of hearing children need to be afforded with all the
tools available for lifelong development and success, including
the use of sign language."
the variation in results of the cochlear implant, Shannon
couldn't agree more.
or manualis a precursor for cognitive development,"
he says. "Some kids are surely being poorly served. We can't
predict which kid will do well and which won't, so we have
to watch them and make sure they have alternatives."
Shannon and Bloch worry hearing parents will see implantation
as a way to avoid the time-consuming process of learning a
second languagesign language. As with any second language,
sign language is harder to acquire as an adult, and parents
of children who sign often quickly lag behind their child's
signing abilities. It is not surprising that hearing parents
might feel more comfortable using oral language to communicate
with their children. But forcing a child down the speech route
could cause the child a number of problems.
implanted children still don't hear well enough to be able
to speak and understand oral language. Even children who do
well with cochlear implants probably need extra help with
speech and language development. These issues are often not
made clear to enough parents.
important that parents be told that sign language is an option
and that even if they select an implant they must be vigilant
to ensure that their child is making good progress on language
development," says Shannon. "Parents should know the implant
isn't the end of the problem, but just the beginning of a
long process, just as learning sign language is a long process."
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Rebecca Smith, University of Virginia.