My son travels between silence and sound each day.
He received his first cochlear implant when he was a year old. Now in middle school, he’s spent almost his whole life with the ability to turn off the world’s noise at will. In the morning, he attaches the external magnets of his cochlear implants to each side of his head, where they transmit sound from the microphones and speech processors worn over his ears. The electrode arrays in each of his cochleae then stimulate the auditory nerve, and zap, he “hears.”
With his implant, he’s become part of a new generation of profoundly deaf kids who are assimilated into the mainstream hearing world. In 1989, the Food and Drug Administration approved cochlear implants for children aged 2 years or older; in 2000, the agency green-lit implants for kids as young as 12 months. In the wake of those approvals, thousands of parents like me—with no connection to Deaf culture or knowledge of American Sign Language—have opted to have their children receive implants. (More than 90 percent of congenitally deaf babies are born to typical-hearing parents.)
But our decision also placed our son in between two worlds: He is not a member of deaf signing culture, but neither is he fully part of the hearing community. Instead, he lives somewhere in the middle, joining the 48 million Americans who are challenged with some level of hearing loss.