Why I Choose Not to Drop Sign Language for My Daughter Who Has a Cochlear Implant
I started looking at cochlear implant options for my daughter when she was three years old. My daughter was born deaf and has a bilateral hearing loss. Her hearing loss was detected when she was born, she failed the initial hearing screening that was performed at the hospital. I had to take her back to the hospital for a repeat hearing screening about two weeks after we left the hospital, once again she failed the hearing screening.
Then she was referred to the ENT to determine if her hearing loss was caused by fluid in her ears. Her ears were normal and they weren't being blocked by fluids. So the next step was an Auditory Brainstem Response Test (ABR). She was just a few weeks old when these were performed, she had to sleep during the test so that they could get an accurate result. After several failed tests, it was determined that she was in fact deaf.
As a mom, I started feeling like a failure and started looking back at what I could have done differently during my pregnancy. I had a normal pregnancy. I went through all the stages of grief, and finally came to terms with the fact that she was made this way for a reason.
Learn Sign Language
Learning Her First Language - Sign Language
When she was about a year and a half, she was fitted with hearing aides. I remember her constantly pulling them out of her ears and throwing them on the floor constantly. They didn't provide any assistance to her but we had to go through the motions in order for her to get a cochlear implant. In the late 90's, it was common that babies weren't fitted with cochlear implants until they were at least 2 years old. However, that isn't the case any longer.
She began learning sign language around a year old and she started signing back to use around 18 months from what I can remember. I was excited that she was learning how to communicate her needs to me.
My daughter is also very good at reading lips as well.
I found out that I was pregnant with her brother and decided that she needed to get her cochlear implant so that she could hear and communicate with him. She was three at this time. In order to get a cochlear implant, she had to go through a series of tests in order to confirm that she was a good candidate for an implant.
She finally is able to get her cochlear implant and is scheduled for surgery. I was nervous for my daughter on the day of her surgery, and it was probably the longest 4 hours of my life. She did great and this was part of her journey to become part of the hearing world.
She had to let her surgery site heal for about a month before she could get her implant "turned on". I took her to her appointment to get fitted for her implant and the look on her face was priceless when she heard noise for the first time. They set her implant on a low setting so that she could get used to hearing noises. I remember on our way home from this appointment, she heard her baby brother cry for the first time. She signed to me that he was being loud. It was the cutest thing ever.
After several more trips to the audiologist for fine tuning, she is able to heard sounds within a normal hearing range.
She Is Still Deaf
I remember that the doctors recommended that we drop the sign language and force her to use her new hearing and speech in order to communicate with her. However, I didn't listen to the doctors. I decided that she still needed the re-enforcement of her sign language skills to help her communicate. I am thankful that I made this decision, because over the years I found that there has been many times that sign language was a necessity for her.
The bottom line is: "she is still deaf without the implant" and needs the sign language for the following reasons:
Bathing/Swimming - You can't use the implant in water.
Broken Equipment - There was several times that she was without her implant for a few weeks, when we were waiting on replacement parts or new equipment, due to it getting broken or lost. We had an implant go into the Atlantic Ocean, she tripped and fell and it flew off the dock. Stuff happens and most insurance companies won't pay for a "spare" or "back up" implant.
Batteries Die - If her batteries no longer are working and she forgets to bring more with her, then she is without her hearing device.
She is very fluent in sign language and it will come in handy when she is able to enter the workforce in a few short years. She will be considered bi-lingual.