Deaf Brains Are Different Than Hearing Brains. Here's Why.

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Cochlear implants can help the deaf hear speech.

When her son Alex was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss as a baby, journalist Lydia Denworth's investigative instincts kicked in. What resulted was a decade-long research project into the world of Deaf culture, hi-tech audio science, and the strained relationship between the two. Denworth chronicles her son's early years, as well as recent discoveries about the science of the brain and language acquisition in children in her new book, I Can Hear You Whisper

Denworth joins us to talk about some of the surprising things that she learned -- and to explain why she and her husband made the decision to get Alex a cochlear implant. 

This episode of Soundcheck originally aired on June 2, 2014. 

Lydia Denworth, on deciding to get her son a cochlear implant:

Making the decision to get him this technology was the easy part -- they had me at hello. But reconciling my view of it with the view of some people in Deaf culture, who were really opposed, was the really hard part -- and something that I really wanted to explore and understand. 

On why getting cochlear implants early is crucial to developing oral language:

The problem is, in Deaf culture, the people who are opposed [to cochlear implants in children] -- their principle idea was that you should wait until a child is old enough to decide for himself or herself. But that negates the core of the science of what we know. And so in fact, if you wait, you have made a decision. If you're going to have oral language, you're going to need that sound really early. Most kids that are getting these are getting them before they're one.

On why deafness has an impact on literacy: 

Hearing children, learning to read, are making use of sound every second of the day in that exercise. That is something I completely took for granted. Phonological awareness -- we don't really realize that's not really about letters. That's about sound. That is about breaking apart the speech that you hear into syllables and phonemes and understanding how to do that. That's the foundation of learning to read.