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 E.K., New Zealand

We found out our daughter is severely to profoundly Deaf at the age of 4 weeks old. I am an interpreter and my husband is Deaf and we of course are signing to her. We have been offered a cochlear implant for her. We don’t really want her to have one because of our strong connection to the Deaf community and our beliefs but we live in NZ and there aren’t any other babies that will be growing up signing with her so I am afraid that she will have no peers. Do you have any reccomendations to information or a website that has honest information about CI’s?

Question from E.K., New Zealand. Posted May 26, 2011.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

I do understand your dilemma. I have to point out, though, that in many places the Deaf community is becoming very comfortable with cochlear implants, seeing them simply as “high-tech hearing aids.” Here in Rochester, New York, for example, a number of Deaf adults (and I use “Deaf” intentionally) have gotten implants and are very happy with them. Unlike with children, there are no particular expectations with regard to spoken language, but they like their implants for the benefits with regard to environmental sounds (knowing that someone has entered the room, that someone is talking to them, etc.). They still use American sign language, they are still part of the Deaf community; they just hear more. With the advent of minimally invasive implant surgery, the procedure has become less risky, and regardless of what we (I) have thought of implants in the past, they are definitely the wave of the future (as well as today). I have seen results from research involving deaf children in New Zealand, in particular, and I have to admit that the literacy gains among children with implants there is impressive.

All of that said, it is important that pediatric cochlear implantation is a decision made by parents. Should you decide not to go that route (for now, anyway), let me emphasize the importance of using hearing aids, even if they are not particularly effective, in order to keep the auditory nerve healthy. This will be important should you decide on an implant later. In the meantime, the best site I know of for objective information on cochlear implants is www.earfoundation.org.uk. And keep on signing!