This blog post is for parents deciding whether to teach Sign Language to their deaf children. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying cochlear implants (CI) are bad. I am saying that you don’t need to rush in. Don’t be pressured by lies. This is the most important decision you will ever make for your child. Please don’t gamble with the decision. Don’t let the “experts” make the decision for you.
When I spent 56 minutes watching a youtube lecture by psychologist Ann Geers many things fell into place for me. She’s at the Dallas Cochlear Implant Program in Texas USA. If you’re not a statistician it will be hard. But sit down with a pen and paper and take some notes. The other inspirational video is, of course, Rachel Coleman’s video about Leah.
In Ann’s video, count the number of times she says the word “deaf”. Count the number of times Ann says “We’re not sure what’s going on.” Especially listen to the questions at the end. The one from Debbie Moncrief, University of Pittsberg might point the way to new research. The other question from the Speech Therapist made my blood boil. Basically they are not really evaluating what they are doing.
In the meantime I think there are five big lies you may come across.
1. Big Lie Number One – kids with early implants do better
Ann’s own data shows that ONE THIRD of kids with cochlear implants are still behind their hearing peers by the age of 10. It makes no difference if this third has had early implants.
2. Big Lie Number Two – kids need early implant to learn spoken language
Rachel Coleman’s daughter Leah proves this is wrong. Leah is deaf and she learned to read and write English BEFORE she got her implants. Ruth Campbell’s research says “we suggest that the best guarantee of good language outcome after CI is the establishment of a secure first language PRE-IMPLANT [my emphasis].”
3. Big Lie Number Three – Sign Language interferes with learning spoken language
Often people will say there’s not enough research about this. I think there is. Kathryn Davidson showed this lie was wrong. She studied bilingual bimodal deaf kids with cochlear implants (ie they grew up with native Sign Language with their Deaf parents and learnt English at the same time). She said the kids “exhibited strong and widespread success in spoken English language skills. .. bilingual CI participants performed at monolingual English age target, and not significantly different from their hearing bilingual KODA peers.” KODA means kids of deaf adults.
4. Big Lie Number Four – we can’t predict if cochlear implants won’t work
Ann’s own work, strangely, shows this is wrong. Check out the Lexical Neighborhood Test (LNT) values for the Persistently Language Delayed (PLD) kids. LNTs are lists of words read out in spoken English. Compare the PLD kids’ LNT scores to the other kids – the NLE kids (normal language emergence) and LLE kids (late language emergence). What do you notice??? It hits me like a brick in the face. At 50 dB they fail more than 50% of the words. Their scores at 70 dB are also much worse than the other kids. So even with a CI, these kids are DEAF. They cannot hear the softer sounds in spoken language. They miss out on more than 50% and have to guess what they are hearing.
Source: Ann E Geers, Johanna G Nicholas, Emily A Tobey, Lisa Davidson, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research 59(1) October 2015
Persistent Language Delay Versus Late Language Emergence in Children With Early Cochlear Implantation
5. Big Lie Number Five – only a small number of cochlear implants fail
Lie Five is the biggest lie – only a few CIs fail. What do we mean by “fail”? Even some Deaf people misunderstand this. There are two meanings of fail.
1. The CI industry says only 1-3% of CIs fail. They mean technical failure of the CI or an infection. They don’t mean when the CI operation fails. My Deaf friends know of deaf babies dying on the operating table or having their beautiful faces destroyed if nerves are accidentally cut. Other people, including me a couple of months ago, believe only 5-10% of kids just never learn to speak adequately with CIs.
2. The second definition of fail is even more important. It should be the major thing that parents think about. The failure is when a child can’t properly communicate with a spoken language even with a CI. As we’ve seen above from Ann’s work, this is about 33% – one third!
The other vital conclusion from Ann’s video is that if a kid is not speaking reasonably well by age 3, they are very likely to be in the group that doesn’t catch up. Ann calls them Persistently Language Delayed (PLD). I call them Deaf. If their audiogram is bad and they are far behind their peers, they are unlikely to catch up.
In answer to Ann’s constant statements of “We don’t know what’s going on”, my wife Joanna said: “These kids are DEAF. They need Sign Language.” Yep!!!
The good academic overview in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Medical Ethics is worth a read. The overview certainly belongs in an Ethics journal because it also exposes the lies. In particular the rubbishy “science” mixed with opinion in footnotes 2 and 3 stunned me.
Finally, don’t just take my word for it. Do your own research and listen to words of Ms Mairead MacSweeney of the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre in the UK. She says kids need strong sign language before they consider a CI. This is exactly what Leah’s parents did. This is exactly what more and more parents in the Deaf community are doing.
Good luck with your decision.
BTW, the best place to get science research is Sci-hub. You can’t just enter words into sci-hub. Usually you have to know the exact title of the paper. Even better is to know the DOI number. People who don’t want you to use Sci-hub have forced them to change web addresses. So if the link doesn’t work, hunt around and check their twitter for the latest link @Sci_Hub