New Films Share Children's Cochlear Implant Journeys

By Amanda Farah Cox

Ida Institute Chief Anthropologist Hans Henrik Philipsen is currently preparing  new ethnographic films based on a recent trip to South Africa. While in Cape Town, Hans Henrik interviewed families with children with cochlear implants  to learn about their rehabilitation processes, their daily lives, and what is being done  to meet their needs.

“These  films provide a lot of insights into the challenges and where the gaps are,” says Hans Henrik. “What’s needed for parents to improve this journey they’re on with the child? Before, we tried with the help of the audiologists in our faculty to find these gaps. Some of the insights that I found in South Africa confirm these gaps. There were also some new ones.”

One of the films, Team Connor, follows the titular nine-year-old boy through his day. He is preparing to leave the Carel du Toit Centre for mainstream school. Though Connor is profoundly deaf, his parents struggled to get a diagnosis that would grant him a CI operation. Despite taking him to ENTs from before he was a year old, his hearing loss was misattributed to a series of middle ear infections, and he did not get cochlear implants until he was  three years old. His story focuses on the parents’ frustration of the late diagnosis that delayed his communicative development, but also on how the Connor’s persistent mother is creating a team of the schoolteachers around Connor that will ensure a smooth transition to his new mainstream school.

“Through the films, it’s really an eye opener about how important parents are and the extreme effort it takes,” he says.

The film, As Much Empathy as I Thought Was Necessary follows six-year-old Kate who had a cochlear implant before her first birthday. Kate’s mother stayed home to work with her daughter for 18 months after her surgery.

“We follow the family’s journey from “switch on” to Kate’s a cappella song, “You Can Be Amazing.” But, the process to get there was paved by many hours of daily communication. Kate’s mother quit her job as a successful event manager. Her mother explains how Kate had to change from the first mainstream school to a more advanced one, since she was actually on a much higher level than her peers.”

Coincidentally, Kate’s father is an anesthesiologist at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, where he treats children who are having surgery for cochlear implants. His work inspired the title of the film.

“He told me that  before they had Kate, he felt he had a family-centered and was very empathetic to the situation when a child came in for an operation relates Hans Henrik. “Now he says that you don’t know how big an impact it is, when a deaf child starts hearing. ‘Before I was performing as much empathy as I thought was necessary.’ The knowledge that he has now really makes a difference because he can speak with an insight that makes his relation to the parents totally different. It instills a lot of trust in the success of what they’re going to do.”

Hans Henrik met with six different families and worked with local ethnographer Rosie Blake while in Cape Town. We are very thankful to Ruth Bourne and staff at the Carel du Toit Centre for making these films possible.

Both films will make their debuts at our seminar, “Successes, Gaps and Challenges in CI Rehabilitation: The CI Journey for Children and Their Families,” and will later be available through the Ida website.