Sunday, 24 July 2016

Pros And Cons Of Receiving A Cochlear Implant

Deaf culture
One woman's view of the dilemma of choice. " I was treated as the Public Enemy No. 1."


When my mother asked me in the fall of 1990 whether I wanted to get a cochlear implant, I said yes, terribly curious about the thing called sound that people made such a fuss about. I barged into this thing as many 6 year olds would, with more exuberance than understanding. All I really knew was I was going to hear ... something.

The landscapes of cochlear implants and Deaf culture were different back then. In the early 90s, multichannel cochlear implants were a new technology and few auditory professionals had the faintest idea of how to deal with it. The National Association of the Deaf — one of the most prominent Deaf advocacy groups in the United States—  lambasted the FDA approval, alluding to culture genocide (a position that it has since changed). The debate set off a furor of media attention and public discussion of Deaf culture and medical ethics. It was a bedlam.

As I rolled into that operating room, I was blissfully oblivious to the anger and confusion that surrounded that little device that was about to be surgically inserted into my body. As the anesthesia sent me off to sleepy-land, I didn't know how many hours would go into training, how it would affect my relationship with the Deaf community and Deaf identity, and how speaking and listening would continue to be effortful even 25 years later. Nobody knew. It was a new frontier.

The word regret has never occurred to me, but the word cost has. I paid a price — both figuratively and literally (those things don't come for free) — but it was a price I was willing to pay. Not everyone wants to pay this sort of price.

THE COST OF TIME

If each hour I spent on training and "incidentals" were worth a quarter, I would surely have sunk thousands of dollars on this thing. Not chump change.

Despite what those YouTube videos of deaf babies hearing for the first time suggest, hearing isn't a light switch you can flip on and presto, you understand spoken language. The brain is an incredibly adaptive organ, capable of forming new neural pathways and synapses in response to new external stimuli, such as the introduction of sound. This phenomenon called  brain plasticity, however, isn't instantaneous or necessarily easy. As we age, the formation of such neural pathways takes longer and requires more effort.

Not only was I a bit long in the tooth at six, neurologically speaking, but I had never heard before.....


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