No CI: A Hearing Perspective

One of the most frequent responses to the Evolution of a Cochlear Implant Attitude article is a question in the form of “But why wouldn’t you want to make the best of both worlds?”

In other words, why not utilize both ASL and a cochlear implant with a child who has the potential to benefit from each approach?

A reader -- Alex, from Seattle -- respectfully asked such a question. Alex said that even though she respects the deaf perspective, it would help if I could explain this in such a way that someone from a hearing perspective could understand it. A perfectly reasonable request. I’m sure many hearing people think deaf people are crazy when they turn down an opportunity to acquire more hearing. Alex's question is a great opportunity to shed some more light on a subject that often stirs up a lot of heated debate.

Where to begin? Let’s find a parallel somewhere. Instead of talking about my deaf son Darren, let’s talk about my hearing daughter Lacey.

Lacey is an absolutely delightful 4-year-old girl. Charismatic personality and incredibly bright. She goes to the same deaf-friendly preschool program her older brother Brandon went to a few years ago. She actually signs a lot better than both of her brothers. On top of that, she follows her brothers around in the backyard and as a result has developed remarkable athletic ability. Nevermind T-ball (which she won't be old enough to play until next year), she's already hitting pitched balls from her brothers. She’s got a rocket arm and will no doubt be a holy terror on the softball field in upcoming years. She also takes a gymnastics class on weekends and does fantastic.

Sounds like Lacey has a charmed life ahead of her, doesn’t she? The sky’s the limit, right? Hold on a second. Not so fast. There’s a significant obstacle standing in her way. After all…

Lacey’s a girl.

What? I’m not a male chauvinist. But I do know we live in a chauvinist world. It’s a fact of life, a cold piece of reality that needs to be dealt with. The world is just about teeming with male chauvinist pigs. Sooner or later, Lacey will have to face this. It’s inevitable. It could be in the form of sexual harassment. It could be in the form of discrimination.

In fact, many companies in the corporate world still have a glass ceiling as far as women are concerned. Even if women are moving up the corporate ladder here and there, discrimination still rears its ugly head.

It’s been said that women get paid about 75% of a man’s salary, even though they’re doing the same job. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out this link on womens' wages in the workforce. Okay, enough of that rant.Let’s get back to the point. And that is, we know Lacey will face sexual harassment and discrimination throughout her life. All because she’s female.

So, based on that information, do you see my wife and I knocking on the doctor’s door to get her a sex change? Should we, based on the irrefutable evidence that she’s going to put up with a lot of crap as a woman?

Hell, no. Lacey’s a tough cookie. I feel sorry for her first boyfriend. Not because he’s going to have to answer to Darren, Brandon, and ultimately me. Rather, it’s because I’ve seen Lacey get pissed off and kick the crap out of her brothers when they tease her too much.

Seriously, I have faith in Lacey. I know she’ll deal with adversity. I know she’ll learn how to adapt to the world we live in, warts and all. She’ll develop resiliency. As a result she’ll develop more character, more strength, and more wisdom. She will succeed in this world on her own terms.

See where I’m going with this?

Exactly. Darren lives in a world where many people just don’t get it. It’s a world where a lot of people erroneously — sometimes arrogantly — assume he can’t possibly be happy if he can’t hear. Some people who acknowledge the existence of Deaf culture may have a less extreme view along the lines of Okay, fine, he’s happy - but maybe he’d be even happier with a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

The fact of the matter is, Darren knows all of the options out there. One of his friends has a cochlear implant, as do several of mine. Regardless of how well (or not well) those people are doing, Darren hasn’t seen anything that’s made him say “I gotta get me one of those!”

Instead, just like his sister, Darren is facing the world as who he is. He’s a deaf kid who doesn’t want a cochlear implant. I suspect one of the main reasons for this is he instinctively knows its not a prerequisite for success, as was pointed out in the Evolution of a Cochlear Implant Attitude article.

Darren has a comfort zone of Deaf culture in his home environment. His parents are deaf and both his siblings sign. (Note: I fully understand why a hearing family with a deaf child would be interested in the cochlear implant. There’s a communication bond within family members that is so important, it helps forms the core of your being. A communication barrier throws a monkey wrench into this critical aspect of development. Hearing families have the cochlear implant as an option to overcome this barrier. Yes, it can be argued that ASL does the same thing, but I’ll leave that for people to discuss in the comments section.)

Also, Darren's comfort zone extends to close family friends. Darren sees so many deaf adults who are successful at all walks of life. He’s met deaf lawyers, performers, scientists, authors, computer technicians, teachers, entrepreneurs, and so on. Most of these people don’t have a cochlear implant. So Darren sees this and understands that it’s his grades in school, not the use of assistive devices, that lay the groundwork for future success (that, and the fact that his parents are really cool people who “get it.”)

As for my own attitude? I remain confident that he’ll be fine no matter what he does. I know there are cochlear implant success stories out there. At the same time I personally know people who have one, and their experiences greatly vary. I also work with many deaf children who aren’t getting much benefit from it, so I know it’s not a guaranteed, slam-dunk success. So if nothing's broke, why fix it?

Once again, if this kid came up to me and said his life sucked and that he wanted to hear again, I’d look into it. But he doesn’t. He plays baseball with hearing kids, goes to deaf camps with deaf kids, and likes this balance just the way it is. He’s doing it his way, on his terms, with a strong core of deaf parents and a deaf community that will always have his back.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Crossing That Bridge 
I do not exactly have any personal experience with CI. My unlce got one recently, which he did not benifit from, but it was his choice. Although I completely …

A Wish for a CI survey 
Sure wish there was a means to calculate how many children ARE benefiting with the CIs and how many AREN'T. The media only shows the success stories …

Our story 
I am a deaf mom to Matthew (deaf) and Alex (hard of hearing). Matthew chose to get the implant. He never benefitted from his hearing aids. I figured, …