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A brief overview of cochlear implants

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Cochlear implants provide a sensation of hearing to children who have permanent severe to profound deafness and cannot hear the full range of speech sounds with hearing aids. This means that they may be able to hear some sounds, but they cannot hear some of the parts of sound that make up human speech. A cochlear implant is different from a hearing aid. It has two parts – one part is worn like a hearing aid, the other is surgically implanted.

Your child will need to be referred to a specialist cochlear implant centre. Your child’s audiologist or doctor can do this. They will talk to you about whether your child is suitable for being assessed for a cochlear implant. This will depend on the type and level of their deafness. A cochlear implant is not appropriate for all deaf children; and if your child is reaching their potential by wearing hearing aids, or there are other complicating factors, they may not be referred for an assessment.

The assessment process will help you learn more about your child’s deafness, and whether or not a cochlear implant will benefit your child. The assessment for a cochlear implant involves a number of hearing tests and other assessments and will require several visits to the cochlear implant centre. This helps the cochlear implant team to build up a picture of your child’s deafness and ability to make the most of a cochlear implant. If your child has additional needs, the assessment period may take longer.

Before deciding to go ahead with a cochlear implant for your child, you will need time to think about the long-term commitment you are making. You will need lots of balanced information during the assessment, and about the surgery and follow-up care. If your first language is not English, ask for an interpreter at meetings, or for information to be translated.

Having a cochlear implant means making a lifetime commitment to looking after it. This will involve regular visits to the cochlear implant centre, both before and after the surgery. You, your family and professionals will also need to provide a lot of long-term support for your child. It is also important to remember that when the speech processor is taken off (for example, at bedtime), your child is still deaf. We believe that it is important that your child grows up knowing that they are deaf, and feeling positive about their deafness.

Families who go through the assessment process will make the decision on whether a cochlear implant is the right option for their child in partnership with the professionals from the cochlear implant team. For some families this can be a difficult decision as there are so many things to consider. Having lots of balanced information, and speaking to families with experience of the process, may help you make your decision. It is important that if your child is old enough, you and the professionals involved listen to their feelings about cochlear implants and involve them as much as possible in making the decision.

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Information supplied by the National Deaf Children’s Society. Reproduced with permission.
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