Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Which I Brag About Tate and Therapy and His Future Career in Research and Development

Tate is three weeks and two days post-activation and I stand in jaw-dropping wonder at how amazingly well he's doing.  The boy has a lot going for him, chiefly his determination to succeed.  But he has other advantages I mention only because it's not fair to compare apples to oranges, as far as people go, y'know?  Tate has the advantage of having had more hearing in the past, and developing normal (well, exceptional) speech and language skills.  He reads extensively.  He has a wide knowledge base and a vocabulary to match.  He's old enough and mature enough to understand the process he's going through, yet young enough to have a wonderfully "plastic" and adaptable brain.  Also, he's able to continue using the HA in his right ear as he adjusts to the CI in his left.  If effect, his right ear is "teaching" his left ear what it's hearing.

Looking back to his activation day - not that long ago - he reported that he could hear sounds immediately, but they all sounded the same, and very mechanical.  He compared it, roughly, to a sound he remembered from the movie The Hunt for Red October.  Within just a couple of days, though, he was beginning to differentiate sounds.  He could tell if he was hearing someone speaking, or something else, but couldn't tell what (with just the CI).

I asked him what I sounded like, when he listened with just the CI.  He got a mischievous grin (and flashed that adorable dimple) and told me that I sounded like a drunk, sleepy, slurred mouse.  As the days and weeks have gone by he's dropped some of the adjectives.  I still sound mouse-like, but sober.  In therapy yesterday, he told us that he can hear the voices and words, but it's still high-pitched and somewhat muffled.  He can understand it, but he has to be attending to the conversation and not distracted.  He's not yet picking up all the language flowing around him unless he's deliberate about it.  But he gets it.  And all that in twenty-three days.  And it's only going to get better.

They test him, up at WWU, on all kinds of things.  They'll cover the lower part of their face with an embroidery hoop and black cloth, to see what he's getting without any visual cues, (because he's a pretty slick lip/face reader).  They run through vowel sounds - heed, had, hayed, hawed, hid, head, etc. Or consonant sounds - ama, ana, apa, aka, ata,  aza, asa...  Not even real words, and no context to help guess.  And he gets nearly all of them.  And the ones he misses are "smart mistakes" - sounds that are really quite close, like ama and ana.

Then they run through a list of sentences.  Each sentence is fairly ordinary, with words he's familiar with, but the sentences are unrelated to each other and follow no pattern.  Tate aces them, even repeating them with the same inflection the therapists use.

Finally, flipping to the back of their therapy manual, they read paragraphs to him that are a bit like newspaper articles, or encyclopedia entries.  Australia.  Charles Lindbergh.  Garlic.  They're written in normal adult vocabulary.  No particularly difficult words, but lots of proper nouns, which are very difficult to predict.  HoH (hard of hearing) people sometimes have smaller vocabularies and/or less knowledge about "random" things, because they miss out on a lot of incidental language - speech that's not directed at them, but which regular hearing people would overhear.  Does that make sense?  So these paragraphs are really challenging because you'll hear things you can't predict and you may not have a base of knowledge to tell you whether what you heard makes sense.  For instance, the paragraph about Charles Lindbergh mentioned him winning the Orteig Award, which I'd never heard of.  Tate stumbled on that, but when we asked him, "What did you hear?"  he was very close.  Another time, in the paragraph about Australia, they mentioned something about the "largest desert in the world, the Nullarbor Plain".  He had no context for Nullarbor and remembered hearing "largest in the world" and guessed "Great Barrier Reef".  He went with his knowledge base, rather than what it actually sounded like.  But overall?  He did AWESOME on these.  He got everything, but a few less-predictable proper nouns.

And the whole thing about garlic was hilarious.  Apparently the ancient Greeks believed that garlic would make a man strong.  (Strong smelling is more like it!)  So they had their soldiers eat a bulb of garlic every day.  Tate was cracking up.  Clearly he comprehended the information (and repeated it back verbatim) and was joking around about how those soldiers wouldn't need any other weapons - they could defeat their enemies with their breath and body odor!

Of course, they were filming the session to show to students, later.  That ought to be a lively class!

We're absolutely astonished and thankful at how well he's doing.  And, in true Tate-fashion, he's ready to push the limits.  One of the therapists mentioned that somebody has invented a pair of gloves that will translate ASL into English.  Tate got thinking about all the capabilities one could possibly program into the processor...

... what about having it translate other languages into English?  What about programming it to detect high or low frequency sounds the human ear can't hear?  You might be able to hear whales, bats, earthquakes, or the aurora borealis.  What if it could turn your thoughts into sound?

I pointed out to him that the technology already exists to do many of those things, but to try to put that capability into the processor would increase the size substantially.

He came back with the reminder that technology seems to be always making things smaller - from computers the size of rooms to what we have now.  He started to get really excited thinking of all the potential military applications...

True, Tate, but you'll also need more power to run all those functions, and the power cel is already pretty big.

He concluded - because he really wants the technology developed for the entire implant and processor to be under the skin - that we need to find a way to power the implant from our own body's energy.  We've got plenty to spare (some of us more than others!).

I think he should be a scientist!

I also think he might just slow down a little bit and learn to manage the technology he's already received ;D  He'll probably be trying out the Neptune at a pool in the next day or so, and I'm really hoping that he remembers all the proper procedure!

He's amazing.  The technology is amazing.  Hallelujah and thank the Lord we live in a time when these things are possible!


Crystal in Lynden said...

My, oh my! That is exciting to read! What a year this has been already and so much to look forward to.

Q said...

One of my favorite ASL teachers said that yes, technology was the great equalizer, leveling the playing field, etc.

SO thrilled for Tate and praising God for his work there!

Anonymous said...

I'm bi-modal (CI in left ear, hearing aid in right). I think it is a terrific way to hear. Even though my hearing aid provides very little help by itself, couple with the CI... which hears much more, I too felt as if my hearing aid ear was teaching my CI ear what it was hearing. Eventually, my CI ear exceeded that of my hearing aid ear. I know hear 98% in my CI ear (HINT) and about 30% in the HA. Add white noise and my CI stays the same but the HA drops to near zero. I also agree with what you said about his age. Young enough to re-learn these things quickly and easily, but old enough to know it will take some work and being willing to do it. I'm so excited for Tate! Just can't tell ya! I look forward to more "brag" posts! ;-)

Rebecca D said...

I think he should definatly be a scientist! The world need a lot more Christian scientists!
I also think this whole technology is amazing and it is so cool hearing about it and how it works! Thanks for sharing.

Wilma said...

I am sure that you're just about to burst with pride at Tate's ability to adapt to his CI. I so enjoy reading about him and his progress. I have tried to read older posts but cannot find the answer to: Why did Tate lose his hearing?

I raised three boys (and 1 girl), so I understand a little of what you are experiencing with your three. Keep writing so that we can keep enjoying your posts!

Felicity said...

I agree! It's all amazing, and Tate is amazing too!
I have no knowledge of things like these, so this is all new to me, but I find the technology so interesting.
I just love the way boys think of new things and new ideas. I have one boy who's always coming up with 'new inventions'. (Sometimes they're already invented, he just hasn't heard of them yet...) I get excited when I think of the future with minds like these.. ;-)

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Hi Wilma,

to answer your question about Tate's hearing loss... he was born with progressive (it used to be better and it's getting worse) bilateral (both ears are affected) sensorineural (it's not fluid in his ears or related to ear infections) hearing loss. It's also not related to any syndrome, thankfully.

I had a normal pregnancy and delivery with no exposure to anything hazardous to a developing baby. Which means his loss is most likely genetic and recessive.

The upside is that Tate has "plain vanilla hearing loss", and we're not also dealing with other issues. The downside is the "progressive" part, meaning that he is gradually losing his hearing. Since the left ear deteriorated more quickly, that's the one we implanted. He's still benefitting from the HA in the right ear, but down the road we may be looking at implanting that ear as well.

Thanks for the encouragement! We're really proud of him, too :D

Ann said...

I wish I had a brain like Tate's!

The McGowans said...

My son is 8 and has had bilateral AB CIs for about three years now. Unlike your son who started his CI process with great language, mine started with body language and a handful of signs. So we are teaching language as well as listening. A challenge, but we've seen good progress, too.

I have loved reading about Tate's adjustment to his CI and about the accommodations the military camp made for him, without alienating or isolating him. And the huggies! I'll have to check on getting some of them, as my son's 'ears' fall off periodically. One fell off on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, and was saved because the magnet stuck to the side of the ferry! His head was over the railing. Argh. He had sweated through his tape.

Hoping to check back in on Tate and your family a bit more regularly :-)