Improving Children’s Hearing and Speech

Cochlear implants are used to help those with severe to profound hearing loss hear sounds that may help them to learn to listen and speak or to regain the ability to understand speech. The cochlear implant is composed of two connected devices:

  • Internal Device – The surgically implanted internal device consists of a receiver/stimulator and an electrode array. The receiver/stimulator is surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear. The electrode array is placed inside the cochlea (inner ear).
  • External Device – The external device consists of a sound processor and a headpiece that connects to the internal device by a magnet. The processor picks up sound and changes it into an electrical signal. That signal is then communicated to the internal device by the headpiece. This communication tells the internal device how to deliver the sound signal to the internal electrodes.

Although the implant cannot provide normal hearing, it should, at a minimum, deliver these benefits:

  • Awareness of sounds in the environment
  • Detection of sounds in the speech range (but not speech understanding)
  • Detection of music
  • Improved speech reading ability
  • Awareness of one’s own voice

With training, a child may be able to develop these further hearing capabilities:

  • Detection and understanding of the meaning of sounds in the environment
  • Understanding of spoken language
  • Development of speech
  • Monitoring of volume and clarity of speech

Who is a Candidate for Cochlear Implants?

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines suggest that cochlear implants are available for children one year of age or older. Other requirements include:

  • Severe to profound hearing loss in both ears
  • Lack of progress in developing listening skills using well-fitted hearing aids.
  • A proactive family with realistic expectations of results

Guidelines for implantation require that a child have consistently worn hearing aids. If the child fails to make progress despite consistent hearing aid use and consistent auditory, speech and language therapy, cochlear implants may be a reasonable alternative. Continued hearing aid use may also be appropriate in the ear that does not receive a cochlear implant.

Rehabilitation and Speech Therapy Services

Electronic stimulation provided by cochlear implants is very different from acoustic hearing. Although cochlear implants can provide access to sound, understanding what sound is and what sounds mean requires much more than just hearing.

Speech-language therapy helps children learn to identify new sounds and to associate meaning with these sounds. This therapy helps children learn to listen and develop spoken language skills.

Children are required to continue receiving speech-language therapy after they get their cochlear implant. Therapy is typically provided by a speech-language pathologist and/or a qualified auditory-verbal therapist. Families must be willing to work closely with the speech-language therapist. This enables them to work toward therapy goals at home so these goals become meaningful in the child’s everyday environment. Consistent therapy and follow through by the family are two of the most critical parts of learning to use a cochlear implant effectively. 

Benefits of Choosing our Cochlear Implant Program

Our program is by far the oldest and most experienced in Indiana. We were instrumental in early single channel (one electrode) cochlear implant studies. In the 1980s, when multi-channel cochlear implants (a cochlear implant with many electrodes) were first being studied by the FDA, our program was one of the original study sites. Today, we continue to provide our patients with outstanding care and the most current advancements in technology. 

Collectively, the members of the cochlear implant team have decades of experience working with children with severe-profound hearing loss and children who are multiply involved (have more than one disability).