My youngest son, Alex, was the first deaf child I had ever known. In that, I was not unusual. More than 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children are born to hearing parents. In understanding the choices I faced — starting with the angry debate between supporters of American Sign Language and the controversial but revolutionary cochlear implant — I found that every decision carried scientific, social, and even political implications. Some argued it was unethical to give a child a cochlear implant; others believed it was unethical not to. Helping Alex meant grappling with complex collisions between emerging knowledge about brain plasticity, the possibilities of modern technology, and the changing culture of the Deaf community. I was not just shaping my son’s brain development, but also his future identity. My interviews with experts on language development, inventors of groundbreaking technology, Deaf leaders, and neuroscientists gave me a new appreciation of the exquisite relationship between sound, language, and learning.
Lydia Denworth is a New York-based science journalist and the author of I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language. She writes the Brain Waves blog for Psychology Today and is a contributor to Scientific American Mind. Her work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Time.com, Newsweek, and many other publications.