While I am learning to interpret what my CI is giving me, I’ve also been involved for the past few days on a voluntary basis in a project that I belatedly discovered is firmly AGAINST cochlear implants, especially for infants and young children--before they are old enough to choose themselves to get an implant. The rationale behind these anti-CI opinions is that there is nothing wrong with deaf babies, and we do not need to fix them. Being deaf, according to these culturally Deaf (with a capitol D) opinions, does not prevent a person from experiencing life and its satisfactions to the fullest in every way.
And here I’ve been thinking that, yes, implanting infants makes the most sense of all! Let me explain.
My life and experience as hearing person prior to 1963 have not really helped me adapt to my CI except in the sense that I do know I can access beauty and information through my ears. I’ve been thinking that audiologically speaking, I’m really an infant with this CI. It’s not my remembered hearing but my BRAIN that is making sense of CI-facilitated sounds. The more sounds I hear, the more I practice listening, the more my brain synthesizes these chaotic, initially incomprehensible noises into meaningful sounds.
For example: the initial birdsongs all sounded alike and boring...”CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP”…like those little tin bird whistles you can buy in souvenir shops. Now I hear different birds, different songs (including, memorably, a mockingbird last week!).
Living in the city, I’ve seen emergency vehicles pass by with lights flashing every day. The first sirens I “heard” sounded like a bunch of high-pitched squeaks (or, as I put it elsewhere, "mosquitos with their tits in a wringer"). This morning, while I was riding the bus, an ambulance passed us, and I heard the actual siren. If I also heard the squeaks (and next time I hear a siren, I'll be sure to pay attention to this), my brain has learned to ignore them.
Daffy Duck is alive and well, but he’s been taking voice lessons. People’s voices, which two weeks ago were all flat, indistinguishable, and monotone are now individualized. I can tell Tim’s voice from Linda’s, Linda’s voice from Yinka’s, Yinka’s voice from Anita’s, and my own voice from everyone else’s. All of this has been the work of my brain.
I would guess that it’s the same work an infant does when it learns, finally, to say “Mama” or “Dada” or “I wan jooos!” I don’t remember what I heard as an infant, but the sounds of my own breathing and the rustling of my blanket had to be among the clearest and most identifiable. Then I learned to make sense of other sounds--my mother's voice, the dog growling. At 12 months, Peggy was saying “boog” proudly as she pointed to the Box Elder bugs swarming on the warm porch of our house in Bismarck. Tom used to say “boody” (for “birdy”) when he saw a bird. Now Peg and Tom can say “bug” and “birdy” like champions. But back then, it’s possible they had not heard all of the discrete sounds involved in “bug” or “birdy” in addition to being unable to reproduce them vocally. We call this cute baby language “baby talk.” Babies all over the world do this, and it takes them months to be able to put this into recognizable if imperfectly articulated speech.
My brain has been going through this same accumulation/synthesis process—at age 70! Of course, I’ve learned a few tricks in all that time, so already I can say bug and birdy, but if I hear those words on a recording via my CI without being able to SEE what the words are, they may not yet be familiar to my brain.
The cochlear implant is magical…there’s really no other word for it. Or rather, my brain is magical. Imagine taking this world of sounds and making sense of them! Of course they should implant babies who are born without a functional sense of hearing. Their brains won’t know the difference between what would have been theirs by nature and what is theirs now by technology.