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Frequently Asked Questions about Cochlear Implants

Question 1:
I am looking for information about cochlear implants. Can you help me?

We have a lot of information on cochlear implants in the Cochlear Implant Education Center Home Page on the Clerc Center web site.

See About the Cochlear Implant Education Center and Services for specific information about the role of our Center and a description of the program and services provided to students with cochlear implants at the Gallaudet Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.

Resources provides a listing of numerous resources related to cochlear implants and deaf children. There are links to agencies, organizations, manufacturers, and other information sites.

Question 2:
What is your opinion about using sign language for students with cochlear implants?

We believe that spoken language and sign language can be nurtured and developed simultaneously when students are given appropriate support. While professional opinions may vary as to the impact of sign language usage on the development of spoken language, it is important that these opinions be evaluated within the context of the child's overall academic, language, communication and social-emotional development. A child with a cochlear implant can potentially develop spoken language skills while also using sign language; however, for increased spoken language outcomes, consistent opportunities to train, utilize, and develop the auditory potential provided by the implant must be incorporated into the child's school and home life.

While there continues to be controversy regarding the use of sign language for implanted children, it appears that the value of supporting signing for this population is increasing. Of 439 families of school-aged children with cochlear implants questioned in a 1997-1998 survey by Gallaudet University Research Institute, 2/3 of the families continued to use sign as a support for communication in the home.1 Amy McConkey Robbins, in volume 4, issue 2 of "Loud and Clear", a publication of the Advanced Bionics Corporation states that "a substantial proportion of children with cochlear implants utilize sign language" and that "pediatric implantees are about equally divided between those who use Oral Communication and those who use Total Communication.

As the support for the use of sign language for implanted children expands, the role it may play for each child may vary based on a number of factors including:

  • Extent and nature of sign use prior to implantation,
  • Individual progress in development of spoken language skills
  • Student preference and/or benefit from addition of sign language
  • Family motivation to include and continue sign use
  • Family decision for the child to be bilingual in ASL and English

Allow a child's communication behaviors to provide guidance in making decisions about the use of sign language. While the goal of obtaining an implant is to increase the potential for utilizing audition to ease the development of spoken language, it is important that this goal be pursued within the context of the child's overall developmental needs.

You can read and download a more detailed paper sharing our perspective on using sign language with children who have cochlear implants here: Your Child has a Cochlear Implant: Why Include Sign Language?

The Cochear Implant Education Center gathers and shares information at a national level related to effective strategies to educate students with cochlear implants who use sign language. As part of this focus we hosted a national meeting in April, 2002, which brought together professionals from across the country to discuss this issue, share information, and identify recommended practices for educational settings. Proceedings from this meeting, including presentations, powerpoints, discussion group summaries, and handouts are available at our website: Conference Proceedings

1 Parents Perceptions and Experiences with their Children's Cochlear Implants. Report of the Results of a Survey of Parents of Pediatric Cochlear Implantees, Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998


Question 3.
We are setting up a program for students with cochlear implants. What do you do for students with implants in your school?

A combination of classroom placement choices and support service options are available for students with cochlear implants from early childhood through high school.

A team of in-house support service specialists provide comprehensive assessment, counseling, and habilitation services to students before and after the implantation process. Placement and supports are determined on an individualized basis through the IFSP/IEP process.

For our students enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program, students are integrated into classrooms with students who have a range of hearing levels, amplification use, and language/communication competence. The primary objective is to facilitate language development and effective communication. Professionals working with the children provide proficient language models for both American Sign Language and spoken English. We are looking at the role that Sign Language will play in the development of spoken language skills. Students in preschool through 8 th grade are provided individualized classroom and support services meeting individual student needs related to their cochlear implant as designated in their IFSP/IEP goals. A plan is developed that designates times for auditory and speech development training, as well as recommendations to incorporate activities and strategies supporting spoken language development and use into the classroom environment. High school students with cochlear implants are integrated into existing classrooms. Service and additional supports for students related to cochlear implants are monitored by the school audiologist.

Other additional supports available to all students with implants include:

  • Workshops and individual counseling for students before, during and after the implant process.
  • Orientation to cochlear implants for members of the school community (staff and students)
  • Workshops and individual counseling sessions for families to share information and assist families in understanding to help them make informed choices related to cochlear implants. Families of students with cochlear implants participate in on-going workshops designed to answer questions and to demonstrate how they can support their child's spoken language development at home.
  • Ongoing contacts with local hospital implant centers to facilitate the implantation process and promote carryover of therapy techniques from clinic to school to home.
  • On-site mapping equipment is available to adjust the externally worn speech processing components of the implant. Replacement parts are available to promote daily functioning of the device.

Please visit Services for further information about our services to students with cochlear implants.

Question 4:
My child has a cochlear implant and uses sign language. Can you recommend the best educational program for my child?

The Cochlear Implant Education Center investigates, evaluates, and disseminates effective practices related to cochlear implant technology and its role in the education of deaf children. We do not recommend specific programs to families, but rather encourage families to examine a child's individual needs and circumstances. There are varied profiles and outcomes for children with cochlear implants, just as with all deaf children. This diversity should be reflected in the diversity of educational program and service options. Factors related to the child's history, age, language functioning, communication mode, social/emotional development, family, and cultural environment will influence program choices and expectancies.

An appropriate program should recognize factors influencing a child's overall educational development, respond to a child's individual needs, program for the child as a whole, and not define the child's educational program by the implant alone. This may include the on-going nurturing and development of both visual and spoken language. Certainly an appropriate educational program for a deaf student with a cochlear implant should provide consistent audition and spoken language training utilizing and building upon the additional access to sound provided by the implant.

Compiled by:
Debra Nussbaum, Coordinator, Cochlear Implant Education Center
Susanne Scott, Outreach Specialist, Cochlear Implant Education Center

Revised 3/6/07