3/13/02 - Teaching Children Who Have Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants have been in the news a lot lately. Radio talk show host and Cape Girardeau native Rush Limbaugh had one implanted in late December. After a life of hearing, suddenly going deaf was a big adjustment, but suddenly being able to hear after a lifetime of being deaf can be an even bigger adjustment. Now, one Heartland school district is working to teach kids with those hearing implants! All this week, a hearing and speech therapist is working with children and their teachers in the Oran school district. The idea is to not only help children who already go to school there, but also those who will go there in the future.

Liam Wilsey was just six months old, when his parents, Chris and Mark found out he was deaf. He got a hearing aid at seven months old, but it didn't help. Months later, Liam got a cochlear implant, and it worked. Now the big struggle, teaching him sounds that he never heard before. Therapist Ellen Rhodes says, "What we're trying to do is teach them that sounds, spoken words, have meaning and that spoken words are different and you have to act appropriately on those words." A lesson that Rhodes had to learn herself. She was born deaf and had hearing aids her entire life, until getting a cochlear implant five years ago. Now she travels the country, teaching kids, like Liam. Their therapy "exercises" may seem like play time to Liam, but by doing them, he's learning words, direction, and most importantly, listening skills.

Using objects like a ball or a block teach the children to depend only on what they hear, instead of what they see, or understand by reading someone else's lips. Those are things that Liam's still working on. It may be a long road ahead to teach him how to learn and interpret sounds, but his parents say it's a miracle he's able to do it. His mom, Chris says, "He loves music and he's got a voice and he's beginning to speak like a two year old."

You can find out more about cochlear implants by clicking on the 'Mayo Clinic Online' link on the Heartland Health page, or by going to the website www.mayoclinic.com. Once you're there, type 'cochlear implants' in the search column.