Position Statement: Cochlear Implants in Children

The mission of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) is to advance listening and spoken language for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. Cochlear implants for children with hearing loss, combined with appropriate habilitation, can provide a key to making that independence achievable.

AG Bell has long-advocated cochlear implants for adults. In 1992, AG Bell advocated cochlear implants for children whose parents have been thoroughly informed of potential advantages and risks, who have been properly evaluated by qualified professionals, and who have been declared suitable candidates. Since then, the evolution of cochlear implant technology has continued to demonstrate the efficacy of these devices in allowing a child with hearing loss to access spoken language.

In order to make use of cochlear implants for the acquisition of spoken language, children must learn to fully utilize the rich array of auditory communication cues contained in speech. Auditory learning integrated with social, emotional and cognitive development is crucial to proficiency in the use of spoken language. Activation of the auditory pathway with cochlear implants must be combined with these other elements essential to communication and early language learning. Research supports that children with cochlear implants can develop speech perception skills and abilities that significantly enhance their acquisition of spoken language and literacy.

A key factor that influences spoken communication performance with cochlear implants is the age of receiving an implant(s). It is now appropriate for children to receive implants at a very young age. This trend has been reinforced by the accurate and early diagnosis of hearing loss. Providing young children with access to sound during early critical periods has a profound impact on acquisition of spoken language. Current research further substantiates that children who receive implant(s) at an early age can demonstrate impressive growth in spoken language and literacy achievement comparable to the levels of their peers with typical hearing.

Cochlear implant technology brings with it a responsibility to support this new access to sound. An appropriate educational intervention program optimizes the integration of auditory learning with spoken language and literacy skills. Teachers and clinicians with appropriate educational preparation and experience are essential to ensure successful spoken language acquisition for children with cochlear implants and their families. It is the skillful combination of lively human interaction and cochlear implant technology that stimulates the maximum development of spoken language competence. AG Bell continues to support cochlear implants in adults.