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Implant a child?

A baby has a severe/profound hearing loss. Should the child be implanted with a Cochlear implant? This is a debate which has raged for years and doesnít seem to be abating. The argument is twofold. From the deaf community they feel the child isnít disabled therefore there should be no interference. From the hearing community they feel the child should not be put through this medical procedure and the parents should wait until the child is old enough to make the decision themselves.

I am not part of the Deaf Community so I canít really speak for them but as a hearing parent I would want my child to hear. 90% of deaf babies are born to hearing parents. They have no experience of Deaf Community and Culture and do not know sign language. If they are to give their child this benefit then they too must immerse themselves into this culture and language. This can be very difficult because sign language is complex and like any language demands dedication and determination in order to learn it. Even if the parents and immediate family are all prepared to do this, extended family and friends will not know sign language and the child is automatically excluded from socialising with them. Language and social development are likely to be impeded and this will impact on education, job prospects and success in later life. There are many more situations throughout life where a Deaf child in a hearing environment will be marked as different, need additional help and may struggle.

Then there is the argument that the Deaf child should not have this medical procedure until they are old enough to choose for themselves. Unfortunately, by the time the child is old enough to understand Ė probably not until they are at least 10 years of age, then it is too late for the implant to give them the best hearing success. When a baby is born it canít see, hear, sit up, walk and so on. It is in the first two years of life that our brain develops these skills. If the child canít hear in this period of development then the hearing pathways are not laid down in the brain and later in life it is almost impossible for these to develop successfully.

I also ask, should a child learn to live deaf before it can be hearing? It was a question even I as an adult faced. When I went deaf there werenít Cochlear implants so I didnít have much choice. I had to live deaf in a hearing world. I didnít fit in the Deaf Community and even though I started learning sign language, it wasnít my language. To reach its potential a child must acquire language and if that language is sign language then they will identify with the Deaf Culture. Even if an implant works after a child can make their own decision, they will have a huge learning curve, face a culture shock and go through an identity crisis. They will have to learn how to listen and interpret the new stimulation and this can take years (a baby takes about 3 years to acquire language).

It is my opinion that a child should be given the best possible start in life. Having recently enjoyed the speech learning process with my two year old grandson I have witnessed how important hearing is. I would want that for any child.

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