Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from Julie N., Dansville, VA

My son wears hearing aids all day in school but still isn’t doing as well as his hearing classmates. Would a cochlear implant help him hear better?

Question from Julie N., Dansville, VA. Posted May 11, 2009.
Response from Marc Marschark

Cochlear implants help most children hear better, although not as well as hearing children. But academic performance is about more than hearing. Without knowing your child’s age, I cannot be too specific, but factors like his sign and/or spoken language abilities, reading level, and amount of hearing loss would make a difference. (Amount of hearing loss generally does not predict academic performance, but it would affect is getting a cochlear implant and how much more he could hear with it.)

In general, deaf children with cochlear implants show higher academic achievement than deaf children without them, although again generally not as high as hearing children. The one exception to this last point comes from a study in which students with implants utilized both spoken language in sign language in the classroom (L. Spencer, Gantz, & Knutson, 2004), so don’t believe those who claim that children with implants should not sign. Your son’s age and language abilities are also relevant because getting an implant earlier generally is better, unless language is developing well without it/them.

You really should see and audiologist and otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) about the potential of cochlear implants for your son.

For more information about implants and academic achievement see Marschark, M., Rhoten, C., Fabich, M.¬† (2007). Effects of cochlear implants on children’s reading and academic achievement.¬†Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 269-282, or Marschark, M., Sarchet, T., Rhoten, C. & Zupan, M. (in press). Will cochlear implants close the gap in reading achievement for deaf students? In M. Marschark and P. Spencer (Eds.)¬†Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Volume, 2.