I have been asked that question countless times. Over time, I have developed my own set of standard answers, depending on the questioner.
In the beginning, it was a painfull question to answer. Maybe because I, myself had so many insecurities as to how much she could actually hear? Maybe at the time, I had not yet fully accepted that my child had a hearing impairment. (that acceptance has come to me over time)
Both friends , family and complete strangers have asked the same question:
How much can she hear?
The question is multifaceted…
How much can she hear without hearing aids?
How much can she hear with regular hearing aids?
How much can she hear with Cochlear Implants?
In reality, I can’t even explain if You and I hear the same way. Why? Because we hear with our brain.
Now when both girls wear Cochlear Implants, I have my standard answers ready, whenever people ask: “What is that”? or “How much can she hear”?
It is easy to notice if people are just curioius or genunialy interested.
I realy like, when people ask about the girls’ CI. I much prefer a direct question to our faces than the not so discreet whispering and pointing. (Yeah, I see you😝)
The long answer
The answer for our family and closest friends. They have asked many times and been given the answers many times – it is difficult to grasp and explain.
It is important to me, that our immediate surroundings fully understand, that we are dealing with a severe handicap. I have noticed that as the children grow older, their hearing impairment is taken less seriously because they are doing so well and their handicap is no longer so obvious.
Without the CI, our girls are deaf. Both of them have a very small level of natural hearing but not enough to hear the diversity of vocabulary expression and learn how to speak with the aid of regular hearing aids. Without hearing aids they are able to hear a lawnmower or the sound of a plain.
With their Cochlear Implants, they are able to hear everything. But it is a different sound and will never be as nuanced, as we normal-hearing are used to – but for the girls, it is perfectly normal.
The girls’ “defect” lies in parts of the inner ear (cochlea), more accurately the tiny hairlike strands (cilia), that are responsable for sending vibrations (sound) to the brain. They are so tiny, that they are impossible to scan but the girls have had their hearing tested via multiple screenings and genetic tests.
A normal Cochlea has thousands of cilias. When we hear a sound from the external auditory canal ➡ middle ear ➡ inner ear, the sound vibrations will move the cilia and send nerve impulses to the brain, which again will react to the sound by hearing it clearly.
From they were merely foetuses, they have lacked the specific enzyme, that causes these cilias to grow and therefor the vibrations are not able to reach the brain. We may also call it a kind of “short circuit”.
The thousands of cilias create a highly comprehensive and nuanced sound spectrum. The girls’ Cochlear Implants provide 22 sound electrodes. Of course, this does not sound of much, compared to thousands. However, when children have the Cochlear Implant surgery at an early age, the brain will adapt itself to close the gaps over time. For example, on Facebook there is frequently small tests, where a text is missing words or letters – somehow, we still manage to read the text in its full context.
They have both had their surgery at a very early age, where the brain is still developing it’s nerve pathways and therefor still susceptible for change. Had they undergone surgery later on, the benfits would probably not be as high as they have been.
Cochlear Implants are not able to distinguish between normal sound and background noise, as normal hearing ears can so naturally. Furthermore, the girls have difficulties in hearing sounds coming from a distance. That is the reason why we as parents can’t stress our message enough: turn off any background noise, please!
Is it a normal hearing? No, and it never will be.
Can they hear? Yes. They can hear and they can speak. We can communicate with them and they can communicate back. The world lies open for them too.
The short answer
The answer, we give distant acquaintances and curious strangers.
She can hear everything! (I give this answer, simply because I don’t want pity or the girls to be judged by their handicap. They are so much more than their hearing impairment)
It is difficult for her to hear, when there is a lot of noise around her or hear from a distance. In fact, she can hear so much, that she may find it difficult to classify all the sounds and has to concentrate more – naturally this makes her a bit more vulnerable and tired.
The answer for other children:
She can hear eveything with her super cool hearing aids!
When she was a tiny baby, she couldn’t hear anything at all, but then she got these and now she can hear everything as good as you – how cool is that?!