Two posters, ostensibly linked to deafness, follow the attention-grabbing tactic of advertising. Both get it completely wrong.
Poor little Phoebe is nearly in tears as she looks at the mangled remains of her cochlear implant. The family’s pet beagle, Daisy, had found it on her bedroom floor where it had fallen after Phoebe knocked it from her bedside table when she reached for a glass of water during the night. Daisy had done what dogs do. She had investigated these most interesting new smells, and thus excited, decided it was worth chewing on. Not chewing on a cochlear implant was not on the curriculum at Daisy’s puppy training school.
But Phoebe’s mum can relax. With or without a cochlear implant, little Phoebe’s brain will continue to develop a-pace. Her marvellous juvenile brain will ignore the profoundly misleading message conveyed in posters released from the Auditory Verbal Therapy website from the United States. These posters insist that hearing aids and cochlear implants are brain development devices that are the keys to listening, to spoken language, and to participation in the wider world.
The most offensive part of these posters is what they imply. Without a hearing aid or a cochlear implant, they suggest, your deaf child’s brain will not develop. It is language that develops the brain, and yes, that includes sign language. Both posters fall into the age-old trap – they confuse speech with language.
Nor is it language alone that helps develop the brain. Glasses are equally a brain-development device. A shelf of books is a potent brain-development device. A bed-time story, signed or spoken to a deaf or hearing child, is an particularly important brain-development device.
Deaf children who use sign language “whisper” secrets with friends, they enjoy music, and they watch their signing teachers. (Providing the teachers can sign – but that’s a story for another time.) Their brains continue to develop just as do the brains of other children.
Some years ago, I use to cycle to and from work in heavy peak-hour traffic in Melbourne, Australia. While I could follow cycling paths for some of the route, I was often on very busy roads. I had to negotiate cars turning left, right, braking and speeding. It required total alertness, concentration, skill at reading traffic, and in particular, skill at predicting what traffic would do.
I quickly found that without a hearing aid, and being in a state of almost total silence, I felt safer. I removed my hearing aids, and right on cue, my eyesight, my peripheral vision, and especially my sense of perception and proprioception kicked me into a state of smoothly co-ordinated hyper-alert. Yes, my inner ears were working fine – the semi-circular canals were doing their bit to tell me where I was in space, and helped me know what to do as I caught gaps in traffic, applied the brakes and accelerated into safe zones. As a cyclist I felt together and whole.
“Please help me wear them at all waking hours”? Thank you, but no thank you.
In a world that is mostly indifferent, and at times hostile, to those who are deaf, huge numbers of deaf people adapt, survive and thrive in the ways they negotiate exchanges with hearing people. They adapt for many reasons, and one of these is because of the brain’s neural plasticity, its capacity to create neural pathways in response to change.
The posters of course refer to deaf children. As it so happens, children do have a habit of growing up and becoming adults. How many hearing professionals who profess to be experts when it comes to deaf children have the foggiest idea of the lives of deaf adults? How many can even claim to have deaf adults as friends? And most shocking of all, how many can claim to treat deaf adults as equals?
The Auditory Verbal Therapy centre is merely rooting for the sense of hearing above all others. That’s understandable, but children come in a pretty complete package. They are strong and resilient, and with love and nurturing, they can do anything, whether they can hear or not. And yes, of course deaf children participate in the wider world.
Hearing aids and cochlear implants by themselves do not and will not guarantee a beautiful future. And does your hearing child not have any friends? Doesn’t enjoy music? And does not listen to teachers, as almost all schoolchildren do? Why, a cochlear implant will be just the thing to fix that! By the poster’s logic, a cochlear implant will be perfect for hearing children who do not participate in the wider world.
Right now, I decide not to practice some arpeggios on my brain-development device, the one that resembles a bass guitar. But where did I leave all my brain-development devices? I didn’t shut down the brain-development device connected to the Internet, and now there’s a message displayed, and I need my pair of brain-development devices, for reading. I thought I left them on the top shelf, but they’re not there. Nor is the brain-development device that fits into my ear. Oh well. It’s a fine day, so I will leave the bottle of crisp dry white brain-development device in the fridge, and I will take Daisy outside for a nice walk in the fresh air. That will certainly develop my brain, and Daisy’s, too. Now where is Daisy? There she is. She’s very interested in something on the floor. What is it? Daisy? DAISY!!