Learning How to Use a Cochlear Implant
The decision to get a cochlear implant to help a child with a hearing impairment function in a hearing-centered world is only the start of a long journey. This journey will take your family on a road past many milestones such as surgery, the activation of the implant, and many hours of intensive therapy. It is not an easy road, and a child with a cochlear implant will need not only the full support of his parents, but also the support of his extended family and friends.
The First Steps in Learning to Hear with a Cochlear Implant
After waiting for four to six weeks for the incision (where the internal part of the implant is inserted) to heal, the day finally arrives when the cochlear implant is switched on for the first time. It is usually a very emotional day for all the parties involved. The parents of the child with the cochlear implant hopes to see amazement on their child’s face when he hears sounds for the first time. The childmight be too young to really comprehend the significance of the day. The professionals involved also look forward with anticipation to this day as they get to experience one of the most fulfilling moments in their careers.
Cochlear implants don’t “restore” normal hearing, but rather provide electronic sound simulations that the child learns to interpret as meaningful sound. When an implant is switched on for the first time, the child might be aware of some sound, but will have to be trained to associate specific sounds with specific objects, people and meanings. Nevertheless, watching a child’s face as he hears sound for the first time remains a priceless moment.
The Journey Towards Hearing with a Cochlear Implant
After hearing sound for the first time, the child with the implant will have to return to the audiologist on a regular basis to fine tune the sound processing of the device until it reaches the optimal setting for the child to hear and understand. In addition, a speech-language therapist will work closely with the child’s parents and teacher to facilitate language development and help the child with any speech or sounds she might have trouble saying. Wearing a cochlear implant is a long-term commitment, and your child might need speech, language, and hearing therapy for several years.
Most children who receive cochlear implants are severely deaf from birth. For these children, a cochlear implant provides the first clear sounds they ever hear, and they learn to associate the sound generated by the cochlear implant with objects, people, and speech. However, some children acquire a hearing loss early in life (due to meningitis, for example), and these children might have acquired some speech and language skills prior to their hearing loss. These children undergo the same relearning process that an adult who was able to hear previously undergoes. In general, children learn to adjust faster to the sound generated by the cochlear implant than adults.
How Can a Cochlear Implant Change a Child’s Life?
The educational future of children who are born with a severe hearing loss is filled with challenges. Learning spoken and written language, functioning in a hearing world, and attending mainstream schools and universities pose significant challenges to individuals with hearing loss. In contrast, children who receive a cochlear implant early in life (under the age of two), receive support from their families, and undergo intensive therapy and training, can acquire sufficient language skills to perform on par with normal hearing peers when they reach school age.