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American Sign Language and Deaf Culture:  Cochlear Implants:

In a message dated 6/16/2005 12:27:03 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, jonathan@ writes:

 "Cochlear Implants"  As a member of the Deaf community....your thoughts and opinions?  Many thanks....
I know we're prolly not gonna' agree because I think oralism, when done well in today's day and age with today's technology, is a perfectly acceptable solution to deafness, as is a decision to use ASL, or to not use implant technology, or to use every method known to man for communication. So, yeah. Thanks again!
~ Jonathan
BillVicars@ wrote:
I'm on the road right now but will respond more fully when I get back to my home computer.
Actually, I'm very open to technology and progress.  I just think "opportunity cost" is an important factor.
In a message dated 6/20/2005 7:38:09 AM Pacific Daylight Time, jonathan@ writes:
            Many thanks....yeah, that's cool you're open to technology. I think that implantation, like if I had a deaf child, would be used first along with a serious foundation in Spoken English. After 3 years, the mapping process is over and you can have a full awareness of their hearing's limitation with the implant. I know several deaf children with perfect hearing and speech who were implanted early, no ASL. That's a success. If the implantation were not a success, I would gladly teach them ASL to work around the implant's limitations and I know many deaf people who sign primarily but who have an implant like a high tech hearing aid, and that it grants them more independence (better speech, better English skills, not needing an interpreter as often). 
            As a Deaf man, you've been rather kind, considering many ASL-purists I know who are 40+ are very harsh towards parents/children who choose implantation. I hang out with them a lot, and they consider ASL-residential schools-Deaf pride the right way to go in raising a deaf child, no matter how successful thingsl ike Cued Speech, Signed English, implants, mainstreaming, etc. They often diss and lash out at people who do not do it THEIR way (ie, the RIGHT way) They claim Deafness is not a disability (I would disagree) and to be proud of being Deaf, and often feel as if people who grew up oral are either pathetically isolated or total snobs.
 Times are changing, there's no need to adhere to the ASL-purists rules all the time with all deaf people, and if deaf people choose to become hearing, that's their business. I don't see why the Deaf community feels they have a monopoly on deafness and deaf people, that their approach to life is automatically the correct one...
             Anyway, off my soapbox, thanks for being so open! I've just been rather infuriated as several good friends have just implanted their 2 yo son and the wife is hanging on her last nerve from all the cruel things Deaf people have said and done to her about her decision. Considering these people are also my friends, It's a rather controversial issue jst in my own mind.
~*fingerspelling* j-o-n-a-t-h-a-n


Okay, here's my view on ASL and Cochlear Implants:

I think nearly all parents of nearly all children (hearing or deaf) should begin teaching their child both spoken and signed language from birth.  It is now a well documented fact that infants can begin effectively communicating via sign language much earlier than they can via spoken language.  The vast majority of research and documentation I've seen also points to the fact that learning ASL actually facilitates the acquisition of spoken language.  This is due to the fact that ASL promotes early cognitive development which in turn supports concurrent and later English acquisition.

This belief isn't about "ASL purism" it is about providing the child (whether hearing or deaf) with the maximum communication resources for his or her mental development. 

Here's an analogy: Suppose you are in a city in Kansas and wanted your child to be able to ride a surf board on the ocean waves.  Lacking access to the ocean you might choose to provide your child with a "skateboard."  Your child will develop valuable skills such as balance, timing, estimation, planning, and so forth.  Later suppose he goes to the beach.  As a result of having learned how to skateboard he will have a much easier time learning how to surf.

This is called "horizontal transfer of learning."

The beautiful thing is that as an adult this person can now choose whether he wants to spend his time skateboarding or if he wants to go surfing--or both!  (In real life though, as an adult he or she ends up going to work and has little time for either surfing or skateboarding!)

If only learning to speak were as easy for a Deaf child as it is for a hearing child.  But it isn't.  So the concept of opportunity cost comes into play.  It is indeed possible for a blind man to become an expert at hitting a distant target with a bow and arrow.  To do so he would need to try and fail many, many times.  It might take him years, but sure enough, eventually he could hit the target fairly regularly.  The question is, what opportunities did that man miss during those years of practicing hitting an unseen target?  How many clocks could he have built, or clients could he have counseled, or bedtime stories could he have told?  How many parties could he have gone to? How much fun could he have had or good could he have done?  Focusing on developing that particular skill cost him a huge amount in terms of lost opportunities. What if he tried for years to become good at archery but never succeeded? Perhaps he would have been better off using his time more effectively?  Similarly perhaps it is better for Deaf children to spend their time more effectively by learning ASL instead of trying to hit a target they can't see? Or rather--voice a target they can't hear?  Who is to say that it isn't better to fully participate in a very small world than to marginally participate in a very large world. 

Now, about cochlear implants, consider the progress of computer processors from the early eighties to today.  Back in 1981 IBM came out with an "8088" chip that clocked in at about 4.77 MHz. If you are not familiar with the term hertz, it is a way of measuring how many operations a computer can cycle through per second.  One hertz equals one "operation" per second or the ability of the computer to process one instruction per second. One megahertz, or MHz, is roughly equal to a million operations per second. A gigahertz, or GHz, is roughly a billion cycles per second. 

Over a period of 25 years single-chip commercially available processors progressed from 4 MHz to 4 GHz.   Which is to say they became literally a thousand times faster. During the next 25 years we are going to see a continued phenomenal advance in computing technology.  The cochlear implants of today will seem like mere toys compared to the technological marvels that our children and grandchildren will be designing.

More importantly though, advances in biotechnology are paving the way for nerve "hair cell" regeneration and prevention of hearing loss. This is not far fetched.  It is real and it is happening now.  American Biohealth Group is currently using technology licensed from the Navy to prevent and treat hearing loss. Google: "Navy N-acetylcysteine."  Also check out Auris Medical's "AM-111" drug, and Sound Pharmaceuticals' otoprotectant drug "SPI-1005."  

Drugs and biotechnology innovations will eliminate the need for mechanical implantation. Eventually this whole discussion about cochlear implants will become moot.


Dr. Bill

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