Cochlear implants

Father of two, Rob, explains how cochlear implants have changed his children's lives.

"Our son Jack was 12 months old when we discovered he was deaf. My wife and I started to learn sign language but, at first, we found it difficult to learn about the new world we'd found ourselves in.

Then our daughter Amie arrived. We knew there was a one in four chance that she'd also be deaf. The new born hearing test at six weeks confirmed it. Fortunately we were able to sign with Amie from the beginning and she became fluent as she grew older.

Decision time

When Amie was three-years-old we were told about the possibility of getting a cochlear implant. I felt positive but my wife had her concerns; it was a difficult time for us. Having a child tests a relationship; having one with a disability will test it even more. You always need to be respectful of your partner's opinion.

We were told that the decision needed to be made when Amie was young. I felt strongly that she should have the opportunity to hear but my wife was worried about the operation. We were put under pressure to decide; otherwise the window of opportunity would close. Sarah broke down in tears.

We went on forums and looked everywhere for stories where implants had gone wrong but discovered most of the feedback to be positive; there were very few negative comments. We also spoke to parents who had put their child through the procedure. They admitted it was tough but that their kids had bounced back very quickly. We started to get a very positive picture of the implants and, after many tearful conversations, both agreed to go ahead with it.

The operation

On the day of the operation Sarah and I felt very anxious. Our hearts sank when we first saw Amie with a big bandage wrapped around her head. We were worried about what we'd done to our child.

But Amie woke up feeling quite bright and, by lunchtime the next day, was being raced around the ward by her brother. It was such a relief to see she was her usual self, our little Amie. In some weird way we were worried that the operation might change her.

There was a four week wait for the scars to heal before we could switch on the implant. It was a strange no-man's land. We felt nervous because we'd heard that some children get a terrible fright when they first hear.

The day arrived and it felt like we were waiting for a spaceship to launch. When the implant was turned on my wife said to Amie "I'm your mummy". Witnessing Amie's reaction to hearing her mother's voice for the first time is very hard to describe; it was overwhelming.

Adjusting to a new life

The first few months with the implant were quite tense because we were anxious about keeping it at the right volume and we didn't want Amie to overdo it. She had lots of speech therapy and it was fascinating seeing her pick up certain sounds and make noises for the first time.

Wearing an implant can be tiring for a child, particularly after therapy sessions. Initially it worried us but we knew the brain would start to find hearing more natural and it would eventually be less strenuous for Amie.

New horizons

Amie took to her implant like a duck in water. She enjoys wearing it and even sleeps with it. The implant has expanded her world and it's so lovely to see her blossoming; she's really coming out of herself and has turned into a chatterbox.

Every child has a different experience with implants. We were so happy with Amie's progress that we decided Jack should get an implant too, especially as his hearing was deteriorating and he didn't like wearing hearing aids.

The implant hasn't changed Jack much at all but we can tell he's feeling much more involved at school.

There is always the worry that something might go wrong with the implant, which would be very frightening for the kids. It's in the back of our minds that we have to be prepared for this to happen.

The verdict

Cochlear implants are a miracle; they change lives. I would definitely recommend them to other families but I'm aware that it's a very personal and individual decision.

When it comes to opting for implants, it's a huge decision. But as a parent you have to make decisions for your children and take responsibility for them. We chose to give our children the opportunity to mix in the hearing world.

There is a lot of fear and propaganda around implants in the deaf community but I think they're confusing a political issue with a physical need. I can understand their perspective but my view is that you have five main senses; if you can help regain one then it can only be a benefit.

My advice to other parents would be to get as much information as you can about cochlear implants: use the internet, get in touch with the National Deaf Children's Society and the Cochlear Implanted Children's Support Group. Look at the negatives and positives but try to separate your own fears from what's best for your child.