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Implants: Evolving Perspectives|
The three families interviewed for this study provided unique insights into the reasons they decided on cochlear implants for their children and what they have chosen to do to support their children’s bilingual development. Even though there was some initial reluctance to discuss their experiences, the mothers gradually warmed up to the interviewer and shared their children’s successes, frustrations, and hopes for the future.
All of the mothers interviewed were clear that the main reason they chose a cochlear implant for their child was their hope that this assistive device or tool would provide their child with greater opportunities, independence, and access than they themselves had. These deaf mothers, like many hearing mothers who have decided to have their children implanted, reported that they wanted the best for their children and believed that it was important to provide them with choices that would potentially enhance their access to hearing people.
All of the mothers were proud of their Deaf heritage and language and felt strongly about the value of a strong foundation in ASL and the importance of preserving ASL and their child’s connection with the Deaf community. On the other hand, their concerns about providing their children with sufficient exposure and opportunities to use spoken English caused at least one of the mothers to reflect on the fact that she might have been putting more value on her daughter’s spoken language progress than she realized.
Being deaf and fluent ASL users seemed to provide these mothers with a degree of confidence in their children’s ability to succeed regardless of their ability to acquire spoken language. They attributed their child’s rapid acquisition of English to a strong ASL foundation. They also, however, expressed frustrations with the lack of understanding on the part of both the Deaf and hearing communities.
Some deaf people, although their attitudes toward cochlear implants may have changed, are still not supportive and are often critical of deaf parents who have chosen this technology for their children. Some hearing people, on the other hand, do not understand the importance of acquiring both ASL and English and promoting a bilingual and bimodal approach for deaf children (Christiansen & Leigh, 2002). Another challenge faced by these parents was finding appropriate services and programs for their children that provide sufficient support for developing spoken language, as well as opportunities to use ASL and interact with deaf peers and adults. For many deaf parents, the educational and social aspirations for their deaf children are of equal importance and often create conflict when it comes to making decisions regarding the best educational placement for their child (Meadow-Orlans et al., 2003). Wilkens and Hehir (2008) raised concerns about the paucity of program options where deaf children can get both strong academic preparation and speech and language services while also having opportunities to develop social relationships with deaf peers and adults.
These in-depth interviews with deaf parents suggest several hypotheses that warrant further investigation. The small number of participants cannot be interpreted as representing the views of all deaf parents who have chosen cochlear implants for their children. A larger and more extensive investigation is needed to get a full picture of the reasons deaf parents choose cochlear implants for their children, how their children are progressing, and their challenges and successes. Further, it would be helpful to know what professionals could do to provide more support to these families. The importance of parent-to-parent support and involvement to the overall academic and well-being of deaf children is well documented (Hintermair, 2000, 2004; Lederberg & Golbach, 2001; Luckner & Velaski, 2004; Meadow-Orlans et al., 2003). And yet, deaf parents considering cochlear implantation for their children find limited opportunities to network with other deaf parents with whom they can discuss their unique issues and concerns. The experiences of these families may be very helpful to other deaf families who are considering a cochlear implant for their children. Additionally, hearing families and professionals can benefit from learning from the experiences of deaf adults and gaining understanding of the value of ASL and Deaf community connections for all children who are deaf.
The authors would like to thank the mothers for their participation in this study. Their contributions are critical in gaining a deeper understanding to provide the best possible support for all deaf children. This pilot study was in partial fulfillment of the first author’s requirement for her doctoral program at George Mason University. Julie Mitchiner wishes to thank her professor Dr. Joe Maxwell and her classmates for their guidance in this study.