Uncovering the Deaf World

by Jill Taylor on February 26, 2013

in Medical Information

deafYou hold your new baby in your arms and everything seems perfect. The nurse takes your baby to run a routine hearing screening. You hold your breath and hope it is just another test. The nurse and doctors come in to report that your child is deaf.

Those tiny ears will not be able to hear your voice, and you start to panic. Thoughts of isolation and rejection fill your mind and you are unable to cope with the news. Hearing screenings are conducted by law at birth to identify cases early and start following hearing loss in children immediately.

As parents, you are faced with a decision to make for your child. The decision is between two worlds, two cultures, hearing or Deaf.

Dr. Thomas Brammeier is the Director of the Scott & White Hearing and Balance Center and counsels a number of parents looking for answers.

Cultural Approach

Nine out of every 10 children who are born deaf are born to parents who can hear, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). This puts the parents in a hard position, because often they are unaware of the Deaf culture and what is in store for their child.

Bombarded with information, some suggest that acceptance of your child being deaf will lead to more confidence and assurance as he grows up. This is because those in the Deaf community feel that their condition is a blessing. Those in the Deaf community find joy in belonging to a close-tied group that shares common experiences.

Dr. Brammeier recalls an experience where he was with parents who were both physically and culturally Deaf who were awaiting a hearing test for their newborn. “When they found out their child could hear, they were almost disappointed,” he says.

The Deaf culture is bound by language and tradition. Teaching your baby to use American Sign Language (ASL) is one way to help them embrace this world of pride and close-ties.  American Sign Language has complex grammar, vocabulary, and rules just like any other language.

Language is what binds people together, and sharing a common language with the Deaf community will help your child be accepted. It is also beneficial as parents to learn ASL, in order to improve communication and common ground with your child.

As often said when one sense is gone, the other senses take over. Dr. Brammeier says this is quite common for the deaf and hearing impaired. Their visual sense becomes sharper. Observing facial and body movements and gestures are important as well as speech/lip reading.

Cochlear Approach

“There are 1.5 million children with hearing loss,” says Dr. Brammeier. “Early identification and treatment of hearing loss is critical because of normal development of speech and language depends on hearing.”

Dr. Brammeier is one of providers specializing in cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted into the ear to help your child hear. Instead of amplifying sounds through the ear canal like a hearing aid, the cochlear implant stimulates the auditory nerve directly, he says.

The surgery is highly recommended for young children to give the brain time to process and practice language development. After the surgery, patients will hear through the cochlear implant but the sound will initially be distorted. Over time, it will start to sound more and more normal. It takes time to learn how to listen through the cochlear implant.

Dr. Brammeier says a cochlear implant is similar to getting a prosthetic leg, meaning it still needs training and practice. “If someone who has an amputated leg and gets a prosthetic leg, they won’t walk perfectly right away,” he says. “It takes time to learn. It’s not like flipping a switch. We will need to fine tune the cochlear implant to their hearing, and also get their brain used to hearing.”

In about three to six months the patient will hear sounds that are normal and not distorted. Hearing can significantly improve to being able to function again in the hearing world.

Parents often want their child to hear and communicate just like they are,” says Dr. Brammeier. “There are a lot of steps to implants, but the ultimate goal is to identify children early and guide the parents in this decision.”

Deaf Culture and the Cochlear Implant

Dr. Braimmeier says the two worlds may cross over to provide benefits in both the hearing and Deaf community.

“Earlier on in the Deaf community there was a strong rejection of the cochlear implant, and now the Deaf community is more accepting of it,” he explains. “Even though someone may have the cochlear implant, they are still deaf and some can learn sign language and participate in the Deaf community.”

There is still controversy regarding a complete oral approach, meaning no sign language, and a dual approach.

Those in the Deaf community feel that teaching your child ASL, despite having a cochlear implant may give him a choice and a chance to embrace their culture.

One special needs examiner argues for continued teaching of ASL to deaf children:

“Oral approach with most Deaf children is not perceived as communicating in a two-way street in a natural way,” she says. “Research states that for a Deaf child to use oral only approach impedes communication and that the daunting effort to develop speech skills is consumed rather than focusing on developing cognitive skills.”

She says that using both oral and ASL techniques will allow parents and children to communicate early, fully and quickly. Crossing into both worlds, she argues will assist the child’s cognitive and social development, helping him comprehend the world around him.

Dr. Brammeier agrees with the dual method of teaching, as long as auditory-verbal therapy is started during the critical time period of six months to three years of age.

“I would encourage them to do both oral and sign language, but there is a window of time that’s there,” he says. “After three years of age, the cochlear implant doesn’t do as well because of the maturing brain. It’s less able to take in and learn the auditory verbal.”

Regardless of the method or treatment, you and your child deserve help and counsel during this emotional and overwhelming time. Dr. Brammeier and others at Scott & White can give you the information you need to make an informed decision that is best for your family. Call the Hearing and Balance Center for more information at 254-724-2260 or visit Cochlear® or Advanced Bionics ® and request an information packet about cochlear implants.

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