The Horror of Cochlear Implants, Part 2

While I was visiting family in Wisconsin last winter, I went to a Deaf gathering at a local pub to reconnect with an old Deaf professor. I wound up at a side table with 5-6 older d/hh people near the entrance. At some point, a family walked in with a young teenage girl who had a cochlear implant. And the table fell silent. I mean, emphasis on “fell”: signing hands went down, and eyes went to her head. One woman signed, “She has a cochlear implant.” Another woman put up her hands and looked to the side: “no comment.”

Traditionally, the Deaf community– at least the older generations, in my experience– has been pretty staunchly anti-cochlear implants. In the past 20-30 years, that overall view has softened to this: Cochlear implants are OK for adults who choose to get it, but don’t implant children before they’re old enough to decide for themselves– and certainly never implant infants. What about the health risks? What if the kid grows up to resent it? I’ve seen some Deaf publications go so far as to call it cultural genocide.

I won’t go into the risks, which are vanishingly minor, by the way– we’re talking a fraction of 1% rate of complications, period; not deaths, all complications. What I will discuss is the preconception that implanting a child before s/he’s old enough to consent (whatever age that is) will incur resentment against her parents and an identity crisis.

Sample size of one, but: I was implanted when I was ten. I was certainly old enough to ask if I wanted it, but for whatever reason, my parents never did. That wasn’t really the way things worked in our household; what Mom and Dad said was Law, and we kids went along.

I have never once regretted the implant, nor resented them for not discussing it with me first. Hell, ten-year-old me thought having a metal bit that mysteriously stuck on my head like magic was pretty cool. (I’m not sure how much I understood about magnets back then.)

The thing is, I knew my parents loved me and wanted the best for me. And I knew the implant was a result of that. I think that’s what made the difference, not some vague and ill-defined idea of consent. It’s a tiny bit of metal. It doesn’t change anything about who I am. How could it?

I have never, not once, heard another cochlear implantee speak negatively about her implant. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t heard it yet– and believe me, I’ve asked. The worst feedback I’ve heard on cochlear implants has been neutral: “Oh yeah, I just don’t use it anymore.” Most has been positive. The criticism and concerns I hear almost always come from an unimplanted person. And damn near every one of them has a friend, or a friend of a friend, who got a cochlear implant and hated it. (After a while, I began to suspect that their “friends” were one person that everyone knew.)

More than that, though, I’d read accounts of cochlear implantees being rejected or teased by their d/hh peers as soon as they got the implant. And that was touted as an example of how implantation could cause an identity crisis, a reason to not implant your children.

Um, excuse me? If your friends ditch you over something like that, the cochlear implant isn’t the problem, and you need better friends.

2 thoughts on “The Horror of Cochlear Implants, Part 2

  1. Hannah,

    I found your blog, and am just now catching up. It seems as if you’ve become the brilliantly-versed woman I knew you would be. I’m Joy (Powers) – from AGBMS when you were… 11? I taught in that tiny shag-carpeted room from 1996-1998. You may not remember me, but I remember the devilish gleam in your eye when you were planning something sneaky, the strongest hugs I’ve ever received, and your beautiful eyes. I also remember the language you used – how you pondered the right word before saying something you needed to convey. I knew you’d always fight for what’s right for the world.

    I am ecstatic, now, to be able to follow your blog. I’ll work my way backwards to see what I’ve missed! I’ve got one, too – I’m currently teaching ELA (“English Language Arts,” aka “Reading & LA”) classes with 7th graders in Arlington Heights, IL, and trying to do what’s best for them. Please continue writing and sharing your thoughts and ideas with the world! Side note – please tell your mom I say “Hello!” She is a strong woman from whom I learned a lot those two years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JOY!!! I am smiling from ear to ear! Of course I remember you; you were one of my favorite therapists. You gave me a black shirt with this silver unicorn on it– I still have it! Of course I’ll tell my mom– she’s still up in Milwaukee. I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, if you have either one. Let me see if I can message you my email privately…


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