Here’s one way to see how a cochlear implant is very important for a hearing-impaired baby at a very young age. Know how when you first get a new device for your computer – say a WebCam or a new graphics card or something – when you first plug it in, Windows will say things like “Searching for drivers” or “Windows is installing your device”? What happens when the correct drivers are not there though? After trying for some time, Windows will just give up. You’ll have to do take a few elaborate steps to get it into a state where it’s receptive to finding and installing the device again.
When your baby is born, his brain does something like this too. Your baby’s brain needs to hear a little sound and it needs to see a little light and so on, to set things up correctly. If this information is missing – say if there’s something wrong with your child’s ears at this point – the brain doesn’t perceive the information needed to set things up. After trying for some time, the hearing part of the brain turns off permanently. To prevent this from happening, you need to supply your baby’s brain with sound. That’s where your ENT doctor may talk to you about a cochlear implant.
Ear, Nose and Throat physicians are particularly skilled to know that not every hearing-impaired child needs a cochlear implant. Your child will only need one, if an inner-ear part called the cochlea is damaged. Typically, you’ll talk to your ENT doctor and he will refer you to an audiologist. The audiologist will perform a few. painless tests, and he will determine if there is something wrong with your kid’s cochlea.
For instance, the cochlea contains tiny little hair cells that are supposed to vibrate in the presence of sound. They use a device to make little sounds, and the response of the cochlea is picked up by a sensor. They call this Otoacoustic Emission screening. Another test called the Auditory Brainstem Response test tries to check the brain for electrical activity when there’s sound. If there is sound, and if the brain is receiving it, then the brain has to do something about it. They’ll pick it up in this scan.
Not every kid who has profound hearing loss is given a cochlear implant though. If hearing aids are able to do something, your ENT doctor usually thinks that these are better. But even after a cochlear implant is placed in your child’s year after surgery, it isn’t as simple as turning it on and going home. There are all kinds of therapy sessions that you and your child will have to attend. The ENT doctors and audiologists will see if you’re motivated enough to do this.
But if all goes well, your child will receive a cochlear implant and it will really work well. Your child will learn language at the right time, and everything will go as planned.