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Cochlear Implants, hearing loss and more! I carry an interesting perspective: someone who had normal hearing growing up, lost it all slowly as an adult, then regained it with cochlear implants. So I'm deaf, but I can hear - a true miracle. If you'd like to know more about me and my bilateral cochlear implant experiences right away, my two books have a wealth of information - see the links below. Check out the list of upcoming events too - perhaps one day we'll get to meet!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cochlear Implant Adventures: Receptive/Expressive Language and the Birds

I've been a cochlear implant user for 14 years, so the sound of birds is nothing new to me - or so I thought.  I could hear the birds with my original CI and was delighted to have birdsong back in my life.  With my newer cochlear implant, I discovered that I could hear the birds from an even greater distance. And when I went bilateral, hearing with two cochlear implants, it was then that I had my first experience hearing where the sounds were coming from - directionality.

In my book, Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing,  I described listening to all kinds of birds, and became familiar with the different species - my favorite being the roseate spoonbill.  I enjoyed saying its name - it involved so many mouth movements and sounds. R-O-S-E-A-T-E  S-P-O-O-N-B-I-L-L.  I felt like a baby babbling - and that's probably what I was doing, getting used to hearing with two ears again, and honing my speech articulation.

Roseate Spoonbill

We're back in Florida, and back to watching birds again - the very same place I discovered bilateral CI directionality three years ago - Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  There are plenty of native birds here in a natural habitat, fascinating to observe - and hear.  I've become good at telling where the bird sounds are coming from.  I've been doing that for three years now, so while it's not a new trick, I still take pleasure in having this capability now.

I was back at Wakodahatchee just yesterday (just being able to say that name is a triumph in itself!) - and it always seems to have something new going on.  Aside from the flurry of activity of baby birds in their nests, I got to have my picture taken with this double-crested cormorant.  He didn't seem to mind posing with me, no matter how close I got.  Maybe he thought I was just another bird - a red-headed white-capped chickadee!

Double-crested Cormorant with Red-headed White-Capped Chickadee

I was getting pretty comfortable being around the birds. One of the bird calls I find easy to identify is the  Red-winged Blackbird.  

Red-winged Blackbird

I knew exactly where this bird was calling from - and, oddly, I started to imitate it.  I never did that before.  It had two distinct calls that I could detect - one a screeching kind of sound, but another that sounded like "ba-JEEB-idda-JEEB-idda"!   It was sitting on the fence railing, listening to me - so I kept singing its song "Ba-JEEB-idda-JEEB-idda"!  And it sat there talking back - looking exactly like the above picture.

I was having fun with this - definitely having a good time conversing with this bird.  I didn't think too much of it - until later.  I usually sleep on things before writing about them - and this little "talk to the birds" episode had me thinking.  

It does seem that,  in general, I've become more gregarious, initiating conversation with people - in elevators, in stores, casually - to the extent that I've noticed a difference in my personality.  Comparing this behavior to just one year ago, I'm finding myself not just content to be able to join in a conversation, or respond appropriately when approached - I now seem to enjoy initiating social contact.  I had thought that came with the confidence of knowing that I'd be able to hear the response.   But that also got me thinking about the vocabulary that speech pathologists use - receptive language versus expressive language.

Receptive language means you understand what is being said - and expressive language is being able to speak to communicate.  I'm no expert in speech development in children, but babies do seem to understand language before they speak it. And part of that process includes babbling, which I've done - and listening to others speak and respond, which I've done.  But the next step would seem to be initiating conversation - which I started doing more proactively about a year or so ago - perhaps at two years bilateral.  

Interesting - I'm a precocious infant again, following some sort of infant/child language launch sequence that began when my second CI was activated.  If I were really 3 1/2 again, I'd be talking to my dolls.  But now, it seems, I'm practicing my expressive language skills on the birds!  


  1. This is facinating. I am wondering if it has implications for my students who rarely initiate nor respond to questions without additional cues and prompts. Although they are not hearing impaired, they do not take turns as one would hope. I might try some bird calls on my smart phone to see if that could trigger some motivation for them to attempt reproduction of those calls. Thanks for sharing.

  2. You could certainly give it a try, with abundant praise for participating. For shy children, it gets harder and harder to participate the longer one has been a quiet observer.