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Switched at Birth Commentary: What Goes Up Must Come Down

August 9th, 2013 by | Tags: , | 5 Comments »

This past Monday’s Switched at Birth episode picked up the cochlear implant story from where it was left off a few episodes ago.  However, in the episode, “Prudence, Avarice, Lust, Justice, Anger,” that was aired two weeks ago, cochlear implant was briefly mentioned when Melody had a lovely conversation with Cameron about his relationship with Emmett going sour.  I was so pleased to hear Melody telling Cameron that because choosing to get a cochlear implant should only be his decision, he should not allow Emmett tell him how to lead his life and she would support fully support him if he chooses to get a cochlear implant.  One of my biggest struggles as an advocate who hears with cochlear implants is that many culturally deaf people frequently tell me that I’m not leading a fulfilling life because I hear with cochlear implants and personally choose not to communicate in sign language.  What is even worse is that there is a small group of culturally deaf people who do not believe in choice by mandating parents to teach their deaf children sign language.  I often respond to their criticisms by stating that we need to embrace the diversity of the deaf community and respect our decision on how we want to live our life.  Melody was truly setting a good example for everyone in the deaf community on how to respect every individual’s choice.

As cochlear implants have not truly been presented in the most positive light in the past Switched at Birth episodes, it was truly enlightening to see a very positive scene relating to cochlear implants in the episode, “What Goes Up Must Come Down.”  Before I go into the details about the activation scene, I’d like make some points about Emmett’s conversation with Daphne about his father’s cochlear implant being turned on the following day.

While Emmett was truly right to think that the cochlear implant will not work because his father is so deaf, it is important to note that the low expectations is really because of his hearing loss background, not how deaf Cameron is.  As I stated in my previous review, Cameron was likely not the best candidate because he appeared to have never spoken and used hearing aids.  Therefore, I assumed that he had no experiences in communicating in listening and spoken language.  Cochlear implants do truly give people who have zero residual hearing, clear access to speech comprehension.  However, there are many variable factors in how well deaf people can achieve stellar speech comprehension without lipreading.  Children who are born deaf and receive cochlear implants prior to two years old and receive appropriate rehabilitation can hear almost like a person who hears normally.  People who grew up with normal hearing or residual hearing and benefited greatly from hearing aids and then become profoundly deaf can also master the same results when completing appropriate rehabilitation too.

Emmett also stated that many people do not like cochlear implants and usually throw them out.  While it is true that there are some deaf people who used to wear a cochlear implant but chose to stop wearing it, this situation is not as common today as it was many years ago.  When cochlear implants first became available in 1980′s, many professionals and patients did not understand the importance of early implantation and rehabilitation.  In other words, many thought that once a cochlear implant has been inserted, deaf people could automatically understand speech right away.  Today, because there is a much greater awareness and understanding that hearing loss background, such as age of implantation or when the person became deaf and how the person communicated, and rehabilitation plays a very important role in the success of utilizing the cochlear implant.  Therefore, many professionals will not implant patients who will not benefit from the technology and do not have realistic expectations.

The activation scene was very well presented even though every cochlear implant recipient’s reaction to sounds when the cochlear implant is first turned on is very unique.  Like many viral YouTube videos we see, Cameron reacted positively by appreciating to hear his own voice and Debbie’s voice.  Because a cochlear implant activation can sometimes be a joyful event, the writers did a good job illustrating it by presenting Cameron and Debbie hugging and kissing each other.  He also spoke a few words well, which leads to an assumption that Cameron does already perhaps have speaking skills, but viewers just never saw him communicating through lipreading and speaking in the past.  Otherwise, if he never spoke, it would be misleading to show him speaking because deaf people who never spoke can’t suddenly speak so well out of the blue.

Seeing Emmett and Melody’s reaction was quite interesting because they did not share the feeling of joy.  Their reaction was very understandable because they have always been happy to be deaf.  Plus, because sound has never truly been part of their life and they have no desire to hear, it is harder for them to comprehend the joy and benefits of hearing sounds.

The set design was well set up to accurately present an ordinary audiology room and how MAPping is done.  The computer screen of the MAPping software was very real and looked like any software that an audiologist uses.  A huge credit goes to Advanced Bionics, one of the cochlear implant manufacturers, who assisted the crew in setting up the set.

While we do not know the hearing loss background of Cameron’s girlfriend, Debbie, we can say that because her speech is very good (the actress is not a cochlear implant recipient in real life) and she influenced Cameron to get one, she obviously receives great benefits from her cochlear implant.  I hope that we will see more scenes of Debbie so that we can see how well she functions with her cochlear implant compared to Cameron.

The very last scene of the episode was one of the most touching moments.  Seeing Emmett and his father finally make a connection with the cochlear implant through Emmett’s talent for playing drums was truly gratifying.  While deaf people can appreciate music through feeling vibrations, hearing the actual sounds of music adds greater appreciation of music.  The writers did a good job depicting the power of the cochlear implants by showing how well Cameron appreciated hearing the music and acknowledged that Emmett is a talented drummer.

Cameron telling Emmett about his experiences in hearing sounds that he thought they never existed such as air condition, plastic bags and slurping tea, was a very realistic scene for someone who hears for the first time with a cochlear implant.  When cochlear implant recipients hear for the first time after not being able to hear for their whole life, they often talk about all the environmental sounds that they never thought it existed. The most commonly talked about sound is toilet flushing!

I appreciated the writers correctly informed the viewers that when cochlear implants are first turned on, recipients do not suddenly hear well overnight by depicting Cameron saying “The mapping’s not quite right yet. I have to get it programmed, keep adjusting it…so my brain can make sense of al the different sounds. But slowly, yeah.. I guess.” when responding to Emmet’s question, “Overnight…you hear?”

While the episode was well done overall and it is great to finally see characters with cochlear implants, I am still advocating for Lizzy Weiss, the creator of Switched at Birth, to bring in a teenage cochlear implant recipient who has been utilizing the technology since at a very young age and hears and speaks.  Because Switched at Birth regularly portrays two deaf teenage characters who do not use any hearing technologies and communicate primarily through sign language and a teenage character who communicate in sign language and speaks and hears with hearing aids, the show needs present a more diverse and balanced community of deaf teenagers by presenting a teenage cochlear implant recipient who hears and speaks.  Like I have also said in the past, the audience needs to fully understand what the technology can offer to today’s deaf children.  We will do another campaign to request that Switched at Birth present a teenage character who speaks and hears with cochlear implants during season 3.  If you’re interested in participating, please comment!  Otherwise, stay tuned!


August 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm

I’m a teacher who was just activated 2 weeks ago (late deafened). I love that my kids understood what a CI was because of this show. It would be great to have someone who really has a CI who has grown up speaking/hearing. We have a student at our school who doesn’t even consider himself deaf, since he’s always heard.


October 12, 2013 at 9:54 pm

This series helped a lot of friends to understand more about deafness and hoh teenagers. However, I thought Switched at Birth” would develop that teenage character into a CI recipient, who lost his hearing in stages due to a genetic reason. I don’t remember his name, but he connected with Bay and later on with Daphne. He was so angry at loosing his ability to hear, because he grew up normally hearing. In my eyes he would have been a very realistic candidate in this series. I’m disappointed that he did not make it into these new episodes. To me the CI aspect appeared very shallow in comparison with the previous episodes.

Yolanda Santana

October 23, 2013 at 3:41 am

I, as a teenager with a CI, have grew up with a CI. It saddens me in how the people perceive CI as negative, a quick fix, and not part of deaf culture. I really, really, really want the T.V. show to have a character with CI, so that the people will realize the truth about the CI.


April 4, 2014 at 2:04 am

I just watched this episode and am confused. If Cameron had been deaf since birth would he be able to understand spoken English as soon as the CI was activated? My understanding is that it would sound like gibberish and as a deaf – from – birth adult he may never be able to decipher language. On the show it appears he automatically understands what is being said.


April 4, 2014 at 2:04 am

I just watched this episode and am confused. If Cameron had been deaf since birth would he be able to understand spoken English as soon as the CI was activated? My understanding is that it would sound like gibberish and as a deaf – from – birth adult he may never be able to decipher language. On the show it appears he automatically understands what is being said.