:: The Nor’wester – Learning to listen ::

Learning to listen

Baie Verte boy having second operation to help him hear

Wed, May 9, 2007
The Nor’wester

In good timing with May being named Better Hearing and Speech month by the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA), Noah Walsh, three and born deaf, is going to have an operation this week that will equip him with his second cochlear implant.

Noah got his first implant when he was about a year and a half old. It is a small electronic device that can help recreate the ability to hear. His mother, Olivia, says she and her husband, Craig, noticed Noah wasn’t responding to many sounds and mentioned it to their doctor. Within a couple of months tests proved what they had already suspected.

“We kind of had ourselves prepared but it was a bit of a hard blow,” Ms. Walsh says.

Within a few months Noah had undergone his operation.

A cochlear implant consists of an external portion and an internal portion that is surgically implanted under the skin just behind the ear. Unlike a hearing aid, which just amplifies sound, a cochlear implant recreates the process of hearing by bypassing the damaged portion of the ear and stimulating the auditory nerve directly. It essentially picks up sound via a microphone and sends signals to the brain, which recognizes them as sound. However since a cochlear implant is much different than hearing normally, the person with the device must learn or relearn how to hear.

That’s what Noah’s parents have been doing with him since his first implant operation. Ms. Walsh says that although Noah has the normal brain capacity of a three-year old, he hears at a 16-month old level because he couldn’t hear until he was a year and a half and is still learning what sounds are.

She uses the phone as an example. She says even after Noah had his first implant put in, he wouldn’t acknowledge that the phone was ringing. They had to show him that there was a sound and that it was coming from the phone. Now though, she says he recognizes the phone right away when it rings. She adds that it’s a difficult process to explain but is really not that much different than what parents do for any child.

“It’s just like you would do for a baby. When they’re born, they don’t know what speech is or what sounds around them are,” she says.

She says it takes awhile to learn how to listen and the process is very repetitive but it works.

“It’s true therapy. You have to keep at it and keep at it.”

Leon Mills with CHHA says cochlear implants really change people’s lives.

“It’s helping a lot of people who otherwise would have a lower quality of life,” he says. He adds that with these implants, people can engage in the world around them by listening to music, watching movies with sound and even partaking in something as simple as the telling of a joke.

Noah is doing very well, Ms. Walsh says. Hearing doesn’t just allow him to receive information about the world around him but allows him to learn how to speak in response. Ms. Walsh says he has learned 50 to 60 words and word approximations. She says the audiologists that follow his progress are thrilled with how he is doing.

“They always tell me that he’s flying, that he’s doing really well,” she says.

With the second implant Noah will get this weekend, she says he will be doing even better. Having two will allow him to decipher from which direction a sound is coming from. This gives Ms. Walsh some more peace of mind.

“Right now if he was out on the road and he heard a car horn, he wouldn’t know where it was coming from,” she says.

Noah goes to St. John’s this weekend. Three weeks after his surgery, his new cochlear implant can be switched on.

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