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Cochlear Implants prevent 'scrambling' in deaf brains

The New Scientist (3 January 2009) touches on testing cochlear implants on kittens (again) and how the results show early implantation prevents brain scrambling:

Cochlear implants prevent 'scrambling' in deaf brains

Brain activity that is 'scrambled' in deaf cats develops normally if they are fitted with a cochlear implant shortly after birth. The finding may explain how deaf children given implants as babies can learn to speak almost as well as hearing children.

In hearing animals, sound vibrates hair cells in the inner ear, triggering neurons to send impulses to the brain. In deaf animals, these hair cells are often defective; cochlear implants compensate by stimulating neurons directly.

To see how this artificial stimulation affects the brain, Rob Shepherd at the Bionic Ear Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues recorded electrical activity in the cortex of 17 8 month-old cats that were deaf from birth. As they monitored the cats' brains, they activated each cat's cochlear implant.

Ten of the cats had received the implant relatively recently and their electrical activity was "completely scrambled", indicating that they did not perceive sound coherently: normal cortex activity is key to perceiving sound and, in humans, to developing speech.

In the seven cats that received implants at 8 weeks old, however, activity was similar to that in hearing cats (The Journal of Comparative Neurology, DOI: 10.1002/cne.21186).

Some deaf people say it is unethical to operate on deaf babies, who would otherwise learn sign language. Neurologist Jim Pickles at the University of Queensland, Australia, says the latest work "increases the weight of evidence to implant children early".


Some Points:

1. The need to unscramble, and the whole basis of this research assumes the concept of normality. It assumes that only auditory based means could be 'normal' languages. How about I set up a research project to identify scrambling in hearing brains, just to get why they cannot learn sign language better? That might be absurd to the passing reader, but precisely how some of the logic above reads to me.

I understand the main thrust of the argument above - if you are going to employ auditory intervention you need to do it early. However, the article above appears to move away from this finding and concludes wrongly by adding an additional assumption. i.e. adds to the conclusion that all children should get implanted (as early as possible). Even scientists should recognise choice. The New Scientist would do well to get a deaf person (in a professional capacity) to comment on the above, not make reference to a vague nameless group (which lends to a lack of credibility) against a 'Professor' who really must know best.

2. Cochlear implants are one of Australia's major exports (see this post as an example). Economics matters, and Australia is going to support such initiatives. How about someone having the ethics to pump funding into sign language research, to balance out diversity and promote acceptance?

3. Do deaf people agree with animal testing in their name? Has anyone ever bothered to debate this, or should we employ classic deaf organisation mentality: shut the hell up and tow the line because we mustn't upset the status quo. You are not thinking human beings here.

4. Here we have funding in the region of ASD$20 million, all money controlled by hearing people. See this year's annual report [PDF].

Okay, as a white person: how about I set up a foundation to research blackness and to make black skin white. Surely black people must have such a hard time existing as a black person, all this discrimination in society, racism and whatnot. Lets develop a drug to make their skin white! Those poor black people, they need my help. With it, their problems could be solved, line up right away! Don't complain, because I'm going to fix you. Sure, I could make a lot of money, but lets hide that fact and dress it up as help. I could also get lots of awards for such sweeping innovation, and why should I bother to involve black people? Their opinion is unimportant because I'm helping them! That's enough. Eradicating their woes (which I've subjectively decided, even though I'm not Black) - don't complain!

See how much the damn logic is flawed? Yet because we are 'broken' (says who?), someone along the line just gave permission; thus makes all the above is just perfectly alright.

And a happy new year to you too!

And for the record, if you as a deaf adult want to hear: go right ahead. That is your choice, none of my business etc; just please do yourself a huge favour and explore your identity. However, I do have a massive problem with a (hearing) society statement that make out Deaf people are abnormal and has no tolerance for diversity.

See elsewhere:
Implants when babies could help deaf kids speak

See also:
BUAV guide to charities & animal testing, what about deaf organisations?

Comments (17)

I honestly can't understand why deaf people have to attack people with implants all the time. It's a personal choice. Why should someone examine their identity if they want an implant? Using your logic all people with bad eyesight should examine themselves in a similar way before getting glasses and preferably not get them at all but instead accept their poor vision as normal.

As I said in my post above, if so meone wants 100 implants: go right ahead. I suggested - as a favour, something I have learnt being subjected to a mainstream or oral upbringing - you can attempt to run away from your deafness forever but you never go onto another stage of personal development. If it was any other personal development, people are open towards it, for facing up to themselves as a deaf person, they aren't because society conditions that way. However, if people never want to leave this harbour, not my problem.

It is my concern however when society and publications suggest my existence is not “normal”, and invalidate this. I have problems with hearing people defining who deaf people are and NO deaf input. The more it happens, the more people are socially conditioned into believing two classes of people. That is why in the UK a deaf person no longer has full rights to e.g. IVF as donors. If you believe that is okay, then .,...

Bronwyn, there are people who will not get the CI, for various reasons, by choice or not - including lack of funding, e.g., in the third world, ethics, e.g. don't believe in animal exploitation, background reasons, e.g., believe in God creation, etc.

There is the fast growing population of 60+ year old deafening people.

Let's say there are 1 billion people you would classify as needing CI, then if each CI costs 25k pound sterling, we're talking about finding 25 trillion pound sterling somewhere.

CI isn't the way forward.

What I think Alison was trying to say is, please remember people like those... and for those, encourage some positive attitude if CI is not the option - including to champion diversity, finding identities, discovering languages, etc.

I'm not anti-CI, but it seems that it's unfair that CI is getting all the attention on every soundwave, giving the society the illusion that deaf people have their cure and they need no further help.

Why is it that when people attack implant companies, people with implants get offended?

Because they don't want to be complicit in their behavior.

Bronwyn, I don't see Alison holding anyone responsible for the behavior of Pepsi Co. because they drink a soda.

In the same way, people who get implants - especially when children - aren't responsible for the behavior of a cochlear corporation.

Thinking, informed adults, however, might prefer to be different, and responsible adults who have implants might want to be informed about what the company is doing.

This is very much about hearing intolerance. In my black example above, what if my motivation was around I could not be bothered to embrace difference? By making the world white, I could pretend everyone was the same as me, so I would not need to deal with.

Yet apart from that suggestion being downright absurd and offensive; blackness is not just skin deep or superficial. There's a whole identity including someone's experience.

For deaf people it is not too different, to reduce our existence to a few hair cells and neurological pathways misses the point.

I think this post also illustrates the burgeoning desire to produce compelling evidence for early implantation. It smacks of vested interests everywhere, under the veil of "helping us poor souls". Granted there are people who would love to have their hearing restored but at what costs?

I recently picked up a story about a pair of early-implanted sisters in their late 20s, from USA. Due to having CIs, they discovered that they cannot have MRI scan in order to defeat the cancer they both contracted within short period of time. Consequently, this has torn their families apart. particularly with their parents, due to resentment of being implanted at an early age without consent. I can't corroborate this but I can imagine this does happens. I can understand Alison raising points that Deaf people/children and/or their parents should not be coerced by biased scientific findings.

Just want to clarify that the sisters discovered cancer in their late 20s and they were implanted at a very young age.

CI is a very complicated area. These are my views, I am not against people having CI as long as they understand the issues and facts,

CI help Deaf people to speak better/clearly BUT does it provide better hearing? Communication is a two way process i.e. verbal and listen or signed and read. CI while improving speech cannot achieve normal hearing. Therefore the deaf person will be even more disabled, because 1 they speak clearly but still cannot hear clearly. There will be deaf people who have had CI and will say they have normal hearing, but how can they know? Unless you are a hearing person how do you know if you have normal hearing. Dr's themselves have said on TV programs that Deaf people will hear a computer generated sound.

So the fact remains that even of a child has a CI that child is still deaf and will still face discrimination when applying for jobs etc etc etc.

Having CI means you are denied access in other areas such a physical contact sports, MRI, etc etc etc.

Children with CI are still getting a sub standard education, I have met one young adult who has had CI since a young age whose reading and writing skills are very poor.

The problem is the Media and the companies behind CI give the impression that CI is a cure for deafness while not saying it is a cure. They just let people think it is a cure.

As mentioned CI are not suitable for all deaf children, where as BSL is accessible to all.

CI people have died from CI operations
not all CI operations are successful
some people have had facial dis-figuration from CI
is this worth the risk for something that is NOT a cure or solution?????

Nobody has died from learning BSL
There is increasing evidence from around the world that BSL is the best solution. BSL IS a 2 way communication solution CI is not!!!!

However there is also evidence to suggest that children who have CI with BSL do better than those who have CI with no BSL. This also suggests that BSL is the solution.

However I am not against people who choose to have CI as long as they have all the facts. I was tempted a long time ago (before I knew BSL) to explore the option of having CI because I wanted to belong. Since I have adsorbed BSL I now belong to a community and so my need for CI has diminished, whether I could have got a CI I do not know but I am glad I didn't.

I do like the black anology - gonna use that now if I may when I lambasted the ignoramas in our community their back door function decision making our lives and the provision of support be what they may- including some deaf orgs too!

Thank you Alison for this.

M Williams, Alison's analogy can be extended to other groups. Think Gays & Lesbians, think women, think other minorities and you are pretty much on target!

Bronwyn, the problem with disability analogies, is that like is not being compared to like. For example, in your use of vision, poor vision is in no way comparable to "poor" hearing.

Unlike other disabilities, hearing loss, or deafness, is the least disabling of them all. It is not life threatening, it is not illness inducing, it does not restrict movement, it is not a barrier to living independently. The only problem associated with it, is that it cuts us off from the audio world [and audio communication], but of all the problems that a disability entails, overcoming the audio barrier is perhaps the easiest.

However, a more salient point, is that your understanding is limited by misconceptions about the various debates in the Deaf world. Limited by the bogus notion of personal choice. Most deaf people I know, never had the opportunity to choose. It was chosen for us.

The issues of Barriers are not necessarily to do with deafness/communication but peoples attitudinal towards us.
It is not?

Yes, M, but I was just talking in terms of fixing the "problem" so to speak. Attitudes create abrriers everywhere not just "deafness/ communication".

But yeah!


You have some facts wrong in your reply.

Firstly, no one has died from having the cochlear implant operation. It's ear surgery, not brain surgery.

If someone has improved speech from having a CI, then that means they are hearing better through the CI. You can't have one without the other.

As a CIer myself, the sound is not computer generated - it's a very normal speech sound.

I played physcial sport with my CI, and contact sports. It did not stop me from playing.

The implants of today can have MRI's done.

Chilrdren without CI's also get a very poor substandard education in many schools. Including deaf schools. Education everywhere is not what it was.

Yes - you are still deaf with a CI, but you can hear much better than total deafness (like I am now), and the discrimination is much much less.

The problem is the MEDIA, not the CI companies that tout this as a cure for deafness. No one I come across has ever said it was a 'cure', but it's heck of a lot better than total deafness, in my experience.

Some of your 'facts' are products of misinformation.

I'm totally deaf. Totally utterly. Yet my identity is hearing. I live in a hearing world. I accept my deafness, but I still want to hear. The cochlear implant for me is my answer. For 16 years it was near perfect, and whilst I may never get that perfection again I still want something other than no sound at all.

I do also realise because of the cost of the device, that it's not the answer for all. One size never fits all. But when it can be used and afforded, I do not think it should be dismissed.


Bravo Robyn!! On explaining those myths. More cochlear implants went to adults than children (about 55/45 ratio).

The cochlear implant issue is a complex one and for many reasons why people get them but mostly it's to help improve communication and experience the joys of sound.

As for the black and white analogy, it is a poor analogy at best. Deafness affects everyone. It's not about making one "act like a hearing person" (i.e. act like a white person) but rather it creates more communication avenues. Listening to music and enjoying it has an immeasurable value to it. So does hearing other things. Or the ability to understand voice and be able to communicate effectively whether in person or over the phone and so on. The black and white analogy is a bit old and is becoming a non-sequitur sort of thing nowadays.

If parents make an informed decision and go for the cochlear implant then should be the end of it and the Deaf community need to learn to respect that.

Also, it is folly to presume that deafness is the "least disabling" of all disabilities. It's a matter of perception here. Polls were done many times asking hearing people whether if they prefer to lose their hearing or sight, many of them said they would rather lose their sight. Or asked what other disability would they rather lose and some say they'd prefer to be in a wheelchair than to lose hearing or vision. And so on. So, this is the kind of thing that flies in the face of Tony's assumption that deafness is the least disabling kind of disability. I'd be careful making assumptions while being only on one side of the fence.

So, you're compairing a person that cannot hear as well as you to a cat?
...No wonder your URL is "grumpyoldeafies.com"

Sad that you assume that deaf people need this and cannot survive with out being able to hear the same way we do. I support Cochlear implants... for the people that make the decisions for themselves. not for an infant that doesn't have an option towards the life that he lives and won't even get a chance to accept him self as the way he is because his parents can't either.

Cole, no-one here is comparing a person to a cat; neither is anyone assuming a deaf person needs this. Go re-read.

Hint: the comments above are reacting to something that scientists are doing.

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