Saturday, February 10, 2007

It isn't paranoia if they're really out to get you.

Okay, the post title is a bit of hyperbole, but my good friend Brian recently directed me to a series of articles in the (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat on cochlear implants that have added a lot to my understanding of their ongoing controversey in the deaf community.

It may have been fairly easy for hearing people to dismiss Deaf people's vocal fears that CIs could lead to the death of Deaf culture, but it would seem that some of those fears were not so ungrounded after all. According to these articles, children are now being implanted as young as 1 year of age; and while I've seen no data to support this, I would assume that also means that fewer implanted children learn, or use, sign language prior to implantation. So that lessens the pool of ASL users.

More troubling is the fact that because these implanted children, who make up a significant percentage of deaf and deafened children, are being "mainstreamed" in school, programs currently available to deaf children - a number of whom, remember, cannot benefit from CIs, and others whose parents don't want them implanted - may disappear. From one of the articles:
"Next year the county deaf class at Santa Rosa Middle School will close, at least temporarily, for lack of students. Teachers do not yet know whether in a few years there will be enough deaf children for the county program at Santa Rosa High."

So it seems Deaf peoples' concerns about the long-term effect of CIs on how they're perceived (broken, but fixable) and on their access to services, wasn't necessarily just Chicken-Littleing.

A significant rallying cry of the CI critics, and one of their more difficult arguments to refute, was that this invasive, painful, potentially-dangerous and life-altering surgery should not be imposed on a child, but should be left until the child is of an age to make the decision for his or herself. The problem is that we are learning more and more about the radical benefits of early implantation for later success in hearing; which is why children as young as 12 months now get implanted. In email conversations with Brian about this, I wondered why I'd not heard anyone publically make the argument that, if implanted, the child still had an option later in life - he or she could choose not to wear the CI processor and could choose to live life as a Deaf person, just as I could tomorrow if I wanted to. That is something that would be unlikely to happen unless the child had been raised at least partly culturally Deaf; learning ASL for example; but I did not see why it was not a relatively valid counterpoint to the "let the child decide" argument, which - given the benefits of early implantation to comprehension - actually gave the child the most options.

Well, it turns out that it does happen, and two young men in this article are good examples. Both got implants (late, by current standards) and both quit wearing their processors, preferring not to deal with the unfamiliar sounds.

In the end, it has to be each individual's, or each individual parent's, choice. But in our email exchanges on this, when we discussed Deaf parents not wanting to implant deaf children, I think Brian nicely summed up my own feelings on this, when he said that "I want my children to have the potential to exceed my capabilities, even if that means they'd leave (outgrow?) my community as a result. Teaching your kids to fly beyond your grasp is what it's all about."

Word. I think, having thought about this an awful lot, that I know now what I'd do if I had a deaf child who was able to benefit from an implant: start teaching her ASL from the time her eyes could focus, join every Deaf group, playgroup and organization I could find, have her implanted, have her implanted as early as possible, raise her with a strong understanding of her identity as part of a group of unique and remarkable people, and just like every parent, cross my fingers, and hope for the best.

The articles (most require free registration to access):




Blogger Xtreme English said...

oh, boy....i work right in the center of this controversy, and it's every bit as painful as you say it is...and more. still, life goes on. and cochlear implants will go on (and get better and better). Darwin said that the best predictor of a species' survival is its ability to adapt and change. that's the crux of the matter. one of the reasons i delayed getting a c.i. for so long was this very resistance to implantation among the culturally Deaf (of which group I am definitely NOT a member). I'll match audiograms with any of them, but because I speak (way too much), they think I'm hearing.

9:27 p.m.  

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