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Implants: Evolving Perspectives|
Part One: The Deaf Community and Cochlear Implants
My Child Can Have More Choices:
Deaf children have more opportunities in the 21st century than ever before. Many of these opportunities are accompanied by a host of choices thrust upon parents/caregivers in the first few months of their child’s life. Although the literature focuses almost exclusively on the decisions and opportunities that hearing families face, few researchers have investigated deaf families’ experiences (Meadow-Orlans, Mertens, & Sass-Lehrer, 2003; Meadow-Orlans, Spencer, & Koester, 2004). The proliferation of cochlear implants has added a level of complexity to the decisions confronting both hearing and deaf families. The issues, concerns, and, ultimately, decisions these families make may be different. This chapter describes the insights of three deaf families who chose cochlear implants for their children and their views on language, literacy, and Deaf culture.
Although the strong negative reaction to cochlear implantation within the Deaf community in the early 1990s has lessened, there continues to be considerable controversy about the potential harmful versus beneficial consequences of this technology for young children (Lane, 2005; Marschark, 2007; Wever, 2002). It is still uncommon for culturally Deaf parents to elect to have their children implanted. Wever (2002) suggested that parental decisions regarding cochlear implantation may be influenced by their beliefs about what it means to be deaf. That is, those who perceive that being deaf is a “disability” are more apt to consider technologies that will remediate what they consider a deficit. Skepticism about the effectiveness of cochlear implants led Julie, the first author of this chapter, to take a closer look at her own feelings about cochlear implants and her identity as a culturally Deaf person. She wondered why deaf parents would elect this procedure for their children.
My attitudes and perspectives about young deaf children getting cochlear implants have gradually evolved since the first time I heard about deaf people getting cochlear implants. Growing up with deaf parents and attending deaf schools, I have a strong sense of pride of being deaf and being part of the Deaf community. I do not look at myself as disabled. I often say if I were given a choice to hear or stay deaf, I’d choose to stay deaf. It is who I am. My family, my friends, and my community have taught me that being deaf is part of our culture and is a way of life. Many deaf people have succeeded in life without having the ability to hear. They’ve become lawyers, doctors, scientists, and teachers. It has nothing to do with the ability to hear. It has to do with many other factors such as the person’s attitude, values, beliefs, and motivation.The numbers of deaf children with deaf parents/caregivers receiving implants appear to be growing due to advances in technology and the explosion of available information. A rising number of families with deaf parents/caregivers, like hearing parents, have decided to have their young deaf children implanted (D. Nussbaum, personal communication, February 2008). The rapid increase in cochlear implantation is due to several factors, including enhanced technologies, improved surgical procedures, and an escalation in the literature on the outcomes for young children.