Reflections on the Cochlear Implant

The members of our association, the Association of the parents of children with cochlear implants, share my opinion on the cochlear implant. Our children have attained different levels of progress, depending on a number of factors: possible additional defects in the child, delayed surgery, and environmental and social conditions. However, I do not know a single parent who has regretted the decision to have the surgery done.

I am aware that there are certain problems, but only a few. I am familiar with the scope of expectations, results and disappointments in the cochlear implant. In one case, a child with the cochlear implant has not shown any positive progress in hearing and speech for one year. So far, nobody can tell why. Corrective measures are being taken, which seem to be yielding the first results. We also have an acquaintance who, after the surgery, simply switched off the device and stopped using it, because the sound was too annoying. We also know many people who are content with their deafness and would never exchange it for the ability to hear. One of them is an actor who is trying to make a career amidst hearing professionals, in regular theatrical production. We have a friend in America who had the surgery in his late forties. His speech has not improved (yet), it may even be too late, but the audibility and comprehension were greatly enhanced. In America, I saw children aged five and six, who had been operated at two, speaking beautifully, playing the piano and the violin, and learning Japanese and other foreign languages. The experiences vary.

We heard relevant and strong objections by the deaf community in America, but I have to say that they sounded chauvinistic and discriminating against the parents and children with implants. We were informed about the strong resistance by a certain national association of the deaf, which even demanded the banning of the implantation, so as to preserve the Culture of the Deaf. These objections were in fact the objections of a strong and self-contained community which felt and acted as a sub-culture, but seemed like a ghetto to me (excuse my candidness).

The objections we encountered in Croatia, on the other hand, were superficial and generally based on a lack of information and ignorance, and sometimes on caution arising from ignorance, to put it mildly. Interestingly enough, no one ever asked us anything about the cochlear implant, except for the parents with hearing-impaired children - as if it was all generally known. We always heard negative remarks from people who had no experience with the cochlear implant, but never from those who had some experience or knowledge of it. Some individuals with serious hearing defects told me that the cochlear implant was a torture for the child. The influence of the World Federation of the Deaf that also bred resistance in the national organizations by its unwarranted negative attitude to the cochlear implantation was powerful.

Some people claim that the cochlear implantation is only an option for the rich and that it is actually another form of discriminating against the poor. I do not completely believe this, although the money is an issue. Just look at the modest, simple and even poor people who made the implantation possible for their children in Croatia, without any help from the healthcare and social services and the state. It makes you wonder, why and how? Only a handful can pay for the implantation with their own money, and they have to make sacrifices. It is my opinion that the expenses of implantation for each deaf child that can be helped (and whose parents approve of the surgery) are, and must be, affordable for a well-managed social state.

The implantation is certainly not applicable in all cases, but is applicable in many. There are many factors to determine this. Who can dare say no, and based on what evidence? Who could take on the responsibility for contrary advice? I do not dare recommend the surgery to anyone, because this is a decision to be made by the parents, based on mature consideration, medical examinations, advice and recommendation by doctors and competent experts (who are scarce), and hearing the experience of other parents of children with cochlear implants. One should gain insight into both positive and negative experiences. However, I am willing to talk about my experience, which is a positive one and has changed my life, the life of my family and gave my child the ability to hear. My experience is the result of a specific situation with Ana and cannot be universally applied to another situation.