Bismarck mom speaks of milestone moments with 3-year-old’s cochlear implant

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 7:25 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Around two children in every 1,000 have hearing loss, according to the CDC. Research shows that detecting and treating hearing loss early can help with socialization and communication.

Sound... like the applause at the end of a musical performance, an alarm clock in the morning, a parent calling across the room to her child... is a way for many of us to interact with the world around us. But for those with hearing loss and those close to them, finding ways to experience these sounds can mean greater independence.

Three-year-old Leni practices matching sounds to animals. But this isn’t a typical speech and language session. Leni’s learning to use her cochlear implant.

“It’s a completely different mode of hearing. You know we hear acoustically. They hear electrically. So, we need to adjust and understand how the hearing works in order to make progress for speech and language,” said Kristen Beierlein, Sanford Speech Pathologist.

Leni was born with hearing loss.

“Around 18 months, she wasn’t reacting as well as our older daughter,” said Leni’s mother Josie Stockie.

They went to Sanford in Fargo so Leni could have surgery for a cochlear implant.

Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants don’t amplify sounds. Instead, they put out electrical currents. The seashell-like part of the inner ear, the cochlea, is stimulated and the data is transmitted electronically to the brain.

“Normally, [kids] hear a ‘buh’ and then they start acquainting themselves with that ‘b’ sound. With kids that have implants that ‘buh’ sounds like an electric, harsh noise. So, we have to train them that this new noise in this device is actually correlated with this sound,” said Beierlein.

Therapists say it’s important to address hearing loss as soon as possible.

“How communication works is from the very beginning, from birth. You know, they recognize, ‘op there’s a sound, oh that’s mom’s voice, oh that’s a doorbell, that’s a microwave,’ and it gradually keeps increasing as they get older. That develops into speech, speech develops into language. So, hearing is a key component to speech and language development,” added Beierlein.

Leni’s cochlear implant was switched on last October. Since then, there’ve been many milestone moments, including one just a few weeks ago.

“As a parent of two girls with hearing loss, you sit in the booth and you just kind of know what they’re not going to hear. And it’s constant... they’re not going to hear. It’s just a constant reminder. So, our audiologist did a whisper and I just, you know momma bear guard up, I was like, she’s not going to hear it. And Leni turned to the sound. The audiologist and I made eye contact and we both just started crying,” said Stockie.

“It’s amazing to see and it is so motivating, as a therapist and for her, to see her power in communicating,” said Beierlein.

Leni’s now understanding two-step commands and working on her speech. And she’s discovered a love for music.

While cochlear implants for babies nine months or older are deemed safe by the FDA, North Dakota speech pathologists say it’s uncommon to see young children with the devices. They say, however, the devices are growing in popularity.

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