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 Gabrielle K., NY

My son who is 7 months old was born with profound hearing loss. He currently wears hearing aids and is a cochlear implant candidate. I am unsure how the deaf community feels about this surgery and also if he will be able to be involved in contact sports growing up?

Question from Gabrielle K., NY. Posted October 26, 2009.
Response from John Christiansen/Irene Leigh - Gallaudet University

Many people in the deaf community have mixed feelings about pediatric cochlear implants.  Some continue to feel quite strongly that parents should not make such a major decision without giving the child an opportunity to have some say in the matter.  Of course, this means waiting for quite a while.  Others, though, recognize that parents have a legal and moral right to make informed decisions about what is best for their child.  It is safe to say that, whatever your decision regarding implantation is, there will be some support from people in the deaf community for your decision if you discuss it with them, and there is likely to be some opposition as well.  It is also probably safe to say that this opposition will not be as pronounced as it would have been a decade ago, however.

A cochlear implant does not turn a deaf child into a hearing child.  Many children with implants will need support services over the years, especially in school, and many will learn to sign and will interact with other deaf and hard-of-hearing children.  A child with a cochlear implant will be welcome into the deaf community if the child is comfortable using sign language.  For additional information about these issues, you might find our book, Cochlear Implants in Children: Ethics and Choices (Gallaudet University Press, 2005), to be of interest.

As far as contact sports are concerned, this is something that you should discuss with your cochlear implant surgeon.  One of us (John) has had an implant for several years, and the idea of butting heads on a football field or even playing soccer is not something he would recommend (even after taking off the external part of the implant).  On the other hand, bicycle riding is fine, although a helmet can’t easily be worn with an implant (in this case a hearing aid on the non-implanted ear, if there is one, would be a good idea).  Swimming, with the external part of the implant taken off, is fine.  For sports like tennis or basketball, the external part of the implant could still be used as long as a sweat band covers it to prevent it from falling off (although, for basketball, a sharp elbow that lands on the implant is not likely to be pleasant, and could easily damage the external part of the device.