Cochlear implants: no guarantee of success for all

Many factors including a child’s age, parental expectations and geographic location all contribute to the efficacy of cochlear implants in children, a new report from Griffith and Deakin Universities has found.

The study — A comparison of Anticipated Benefits and the Personal, Educational and Social Outcomes of Cochlear Implantation in Deaf Children — is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

It investigated three major aspects of childhood cochlear implantation including parents expected outcomes, families’ decision-making processes and personal, social and educational outcomes for the children.

The study broadened the focus of most previous studies that examined the speech and listening outcomes for the children.

It surveyed and interviewed a large sample of parents, teachers, and young cochlear implant recipients across a range of locations in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

“Consistent with existing literature, a younger age at implantation was found to be a predictor of positive communication and social outcomes,” said lead researcher Professor Merv Hyde from Griffith University.

“The majority of parents believed their children were happier, less frustrated and safer than they would have been without the implant. Almost 60 per cent of parents reported their child functioned like a child with normal hearing, however, only 30 per cent of teachers reported this,” he said.

Alternatively, close to 30 per cent of parents and teachers believed the child had developed an identity as a deaf person, while two thirds of parents, and slightly more than one third of teachers found the child comfortably shared both deaf and hearing identities.

The study also found families’ location in major city areas was associated with positive communication outcomes, while living in regional or remote areas predicted greater rehabilitation stress for parents.

“In addition, teachers having high levels of communication with other professionals, such as audiologists and speech pathologists about the child’s use of and progress with the cochlear implant predicted positives outcomes. This was not always the case.” Professor Hyde said.

“We found parents overwhelmingly chose cochlear implantation for their children as a means to develop communication through hearing and speaking and that parents’ expectations were that their children would not need to use a sign language (Auslan) or sign support.

“However, we found a substantial proportion of children (between 20 and 30 per cent) were reported by both teachers and parents to be using some form of sign communication.”

Professor Hyde said implant programs should continue to advise with caution about the range of likely outcomes and also remain aware that families were more likely to be influenced by their hopes and aspirations for their children than by the information they received.

The study, which started in 2006, was funded by the Australian Research Council with support from Deaf Children Australia as industry partners.