What I’ve Learned From Being the Mom of a Child with Cochlear Implants
My son was born deaf with sensorineural hearing loss and now has bilateral cochlear implants. Each year, as the anniversaries of my son’s cochlear implant surgeries approach and pass, I am filled with emotions as I think of how far he has come and the strides he’s made in his life so far. Any mom who has a special needs child knows how emotional it can be to raise that child.
I’ve learned throughout the process of multiple tests, a hearing aid trial, surgeries, and cochlear implant hearing aid activations that I am growing right along with my son: mentally, emotionally, and every way in between. As he puts his Cochlear Nucleus 7 processors on every morning, I think about everything we’ve done to get to where he is today. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from being the mom of a child with cochlear implants.
The cochlear implant is an amazing piece of technology.
I had heard of the cochlear implant and knew a little about them before learning that my son was deaf. Was I an expert? Absolutely not. It took plenty of research and talking to my son’s doctors to really understand everything I needed to know: how they work, how they’ll help them, the average cochlear implant cost, and more. It wasn’t until my son had his first surgery and became activated that I really understood just how amazing these devices are (I mean HELLO! I can hook his “ears” up directly to his iPad or the TV for clearer sound!).
Think of it as a messenger inside your child’s head, running from outside the ear to the brain to relay a message. It essentially is a robotic ear, much like a prosthetic limb, only it also communicates with the brain. I only understood the true awesomeness of this once I saw my son growing the ability to hear and understand sounds over time.
I will become a pro at this eventually.
Learning about cochlear implants is no joke. It took me a good three years to feel confident about my son’s Cochlear Nucleus equipment, and there are still things I’m learning about, like the extra cables that can be used with it and all the technicalities of his mapping appointments. It really is a learning process for parents just as much as it is for the child.
My son’s audiologists have been great with making me understand that even many doctors don’t even know much about cochlear implants. There is always something to learn and we will probably be learning throughout my son’s life as new upgrades become available, his brain adjusts to new sounds, and advances are made.
Adults will sometimes stare – and it’s okay.
Now, let me explain this one a bit because it’s a tough one for me and always will be. Since my son has had his bilateral cochlear implants, I can’t remember one time I went to a store and didn’t get at least one person staring at him. The really unsettling part is it’s mostly adults, not children, who do the staring. I understand that people are curious. That doesn’t bother me one bit. But staring is something that bothers me, especially because he’s older now and can understand that it’s happening.
What doesn’t bother me is when people see the implants, pique their curiosity, and begin asking questions. Better yet, now that my son is old enough to answer, ask him questions about his processors. Over the years, I’ve learned that curiosity in this case is an excellent opportunity for educating. My son is a little shy still when it comes to talking to new people, but asking a question is always better than simply staring without educating oneself.
I will always have critics.
One of my biggest fears when deciding whether or not to implant my son was the backlash from the Deaf community. Upon learning about his deafness and the options available to us, I was approached by a Deaf extended family member who urged us not to implant and got rather offended when I said it was something we were considering. After researching more, I found that others in the Deaf community are not supporters of CIs.
In no way did I want my son to feel unaccepted by the Deaf community. I struggled with this for a long time. Eventually, I realized that no one could make this decision for us. As his parents, we had to decide what was best for him. If we chose not to implant, some people might criticize us for not helping him in any way we could. Ultimately, I had to accept the fact that this decision was not to please others. It was to do what we felt was best for our child.
I made the right choice for MY son.
And I’m convinced our choice was the right one for my little man. The time after activation has been an incredible journey of ups and downs. But when I think about all of the milestones my son has reached and the opportunities we have given him, all I can feel is blessed. I know that we opened up the door for him to make his own decision later in life.
If he chooses when he’s older to continue to wear his CIs, great. He may choose not to. He may want American Sign Language as his main form of communication. I am completely fine with that too. In taking advantage of this amazing technology, I’m confident that we gave my son the best of both worlds and the power to make his own decision.
My child will develop and grow on his schedule.
I was so concerned that my son would be far behind other children his age. His first processor wasn’t activated until he was 18 months old. Although his speech had been delayed for a while (totally normal for kiddos in his boat), he makes incredible progress all the time and excels in so many other areas. When using ASL, he was able to sign and understand over 50 ASL signs. He also recognized and signed every letter of the alphabet by 18 months. And he knew all shapes and colors by 2 1/2.
By 3, he was able to read about 20 sight words, and at 4, this number reached over 40! This is pretty amazing to me. Due to his lack of hearing in his early life, his visual awareness is mind-boggling. And his intelligence blows me away. He plays and learns just like any other child; he just couldn’t tell us that himself for several years.
Today, he’s the most talkative child I know (this is not an exaggeration – if he’s awake, he’s talking, even if it’s to himself). He has a love for learning all things science, social studies, and sports. And he continues to amaze me daily.
My CI kid will keep making me proud every day.
I’m a firm believer that there is a very special bond between parents and children with special needs. Not that there is any stronger love for this child than your other children, but it’s different. It pulls you so close and makes you extraordinarily proud of every accomplishment they achieve. When my son makes a new noise or attempts to say a new word, it’s over-the-top exciting. That’s because I know what a huge step it is in his life. And it shows me that we made a good decision.
Every “hearing” milestone he reaches makes me one very proud mom. Showing him that I’m proud of him will hopefully give him the confidence to go out and be whoever he wants to be in life. For now, he is one amazing little man with “Super-Hero” ears!
Is there anything you’d like to know about cochlear implants or raising kids with CIs? Leave me a comment down below. I’d love to hear other families’ stories, too!
*This post was originally published on October 9, 2016 and has been updated on October 15, 2021.