Introduction: Using the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as example, we argue that regulatory agencies worldwide should review their guidance on cochlear implants (CIs).
Methods: This is a position paper, thus the methods are strictly argumentation. Here we give the motivation for our recommendation. The FDA's original approval of implantation in prelingually deaf children was granted without full benefit of information on language acquisition, on childcaregiver communication, and on the lived experience of being deaf. The CI clinical trials, accordingly, did not address risks of linguistic deprivation, especially when the caregiver's communication is not fully accessible to the prelingually deaf child. Wide variability in the effectiveness of CIs since initial and updated approval has been indicated but has not led to new guidance. Children need to be exposed frequently and regularly to accessible natural language while their brains are still plastic enough to become fluent in any language. For the youngest infants, who are not yet producing anything that could be called language although they might be producing salient social signals (Goldstein et al. Child Dev 80:636-644, 2009), good comprehension of communication from caregiver to infant is critical to the development of language. Sign languages are accessible natural languages that, because they are visual, allow full immersion for deaf infants, and they supply the necessary support for this comprehension. The main language contributor to health outcomes is this combination of natural visual language and comprehension in communication. Accordingly, in order to prevent possible language deprivation, all prelingually deaf children should be exposed to both sign and spoken languages when their auditory status is detected, with sign language being critical during infancy and early childhood. Additionally, all caregivers should be given support to learn a sign language if it is new to them so that they can comprehend their deaf children's language expressions fully. However, both languages should be made accessible in their own right, not combined in a simultaneous or total communication approach since speaking one language and signing the other at the same time is problematic.
Results: Again, because this is a position paper, our results are our recommendations. We call for the FDA (and similar agencies in other countries) to review its approval of cochlear implantation in prelingually deaf children who are within the sensitive period for language acquisition. In the meantime, the FDA should require manufacturers to add a highlighted warning to the effect that results with CI vary widely and CIs should not be relied upon to provide adequate auditory input for complete language development in all deaf children. Recent best information on users' experience with CIs (including abandonment) should be clearly provided so that informed decisions can be made. The FDA should require manufacturers' guidance and information materials to include encouragement to parents of deaf children to offer auditory input of a spoken language and visual input of a sign language and to have their child followed closely from birth by developmental specialists in language and cognition. In this way parents can align with providers to prioritize cognitive development and language access in both audio-vocal and visuo-gestural modalities. Discussion: The arguments and recommendations in this paper are discussed at length as they come up.