Thursday, March 8

ABC's What About Brian - An Absurd Depiction of Cochlear Implants

Last month Drew's Mom discussed ABC's Monday night drama, What About Brian. It was quite exciting because it concerned two parents struggling with how best to care for their young daughter who was not hearing, which is obviously the situation we are in right now with Drew.

We weren't the only ones who were excited. The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing issued a press release that oozed with optimism that the show would increase awareness and understanding of hearing loss in children.

On the show, the two parents had decided to have their daughter receive a cochlear implant in order to help her hear after considering their options. Drew's Mom and I were both excited to see how the decision would play out since we are opting to give Drew an implant as well. Because we knew nothing of the many options out there to allow Drew to communicate without relying on sign language, we felt that this show would help parents learn about the option of the cochlear implant.

On the Monday, March 5th episode of What About Brian, it was revealed that the whole storyline of the little girl's hearing loss was an ill-conceived ploy to advance the storyline and have the two parents overcome their problems and get back together.

Rather than portray the cochlear implant option in a realistic light, which would help the deaf and hearing alike, ABC and the writers of this show decided to broadcast an inaccurate understanding of cochlear implants to all who would watch.

In the crucial scene, the parents and child are in a medical office with someone in a white coat in order to have the cochlear implant turned on. Here are a few of the blatant fictions portrayed in this scene:

1) The device they call the cochlear implant does not have a "coil", a required piece of the device which sticks to the skull via a magnet. This is how the signal travels from the microphone to the auditory nerve.
2) When the parents ask when the implant will be turned on, the "doctor" says that it's already on, and that "frankly, there is no way to tell" if she is hearing at that point in time.

This is blatantly false. I have seen many videos of children having their implants turned on, and they usually cry with fear of the new sense they have acquired. Hearing their mother's voice after never hearing anything is quite a shock!

Perhaps this T.V. doctor didn't think there was a way to tell if she could hear because he's not an" audiologist", the highly trained professionals that would be there to help determine if the device was working. Or, perhaps its because this doc had no equipment of any kind to assist him in making that determination.

3) These thorough ABC writers then did some exhaustive research and took a page from the "Cochlear Implants for Complete, Utter, and Total Morons" and wrote it in the script where the "doctor" prescribes a completely irresponsible course of action for this family to follow.

This character says (and I'm paraphrasing) "o.k. go home and keep a lookout for any language development." That's it. They make it out to be that there is no further action required. Plug and play. Just "keep an eye out" for any speech, any language. Just take a little peek every once in a while just to see if little Johnny is progressing with his hearing, his language.

This is not an accurate description. You are taking a child that has not had the educational sensory benefits of sound for a year. You don't just go on as though nothing has happened. If this child is going to speak, he or she will need training and education to develop the skills that have sat at a baseline of zero for a year. I resent the fact that this show gives people the impression that they can have their deaf child have implant surgery and there's nothing else to do. That is a dangerous message to send to parents who may not understand the importance of this decision for their child.

4) Ultimately the child gets an ear infection within a couple of days, and they see another "doctor" in what looks to be an emergency room. The "doc" looks in the ear and says something like "I take it she had a cochlear implant". The tone of this statement sends the message "This always happens with cochlear implants".

This quack then says in a short, condescending voice to the parents "Listen, I'm not an expert, but your daughter can't hear anything out of that ear", and leaves.

My questions on this ridiculous sequence are 1) how that doctor can say the girl can't hear when he's not an expert on hearing; and 2) why this doc would think that (even if he was an expert) that shining a little light into an eardrum and looking in the outer ear canal would help him determine if the implant, which is IN THE INNER EAR, is working).

This depiction of the activation of the cochlear implant was revolting. It would be one thing if ABC simply did not do their homework and thought that most viewers wouldn't notice if they just faked it. However, to me it seems to have a clear anti-cochlear implant message.

To me, this episode of What About Brian says "if you give your child a cochlear implant, they'll get an ear infection and lose all their hearing you evil, selfish parent." It fits right into much of the garbage I've seen written on other blogs that compares people with cochlear implants to robots and vampires.

It's a shame that a topic such as this, which could have brought a lot of good was instead simply used as a plot device and ended up simply spreading false impressions.

Your comments are welcome.


Olive Jopia-Abarquez said...

I have HI and Deaf Students and I actually teach them in mainstreamed class. I am interested to exchange links with you.

I appreciate your wonderful effort. Yes, I have faith your son will eventually hear. Messages don't just come in sounds.

I wish there are more parents who are like you who view things the way you do. I teach Child & Adolescent Development/Developmental Psychology and believe that Nurture is a powerful way of helping children grow.

Goodluck! I'll be a fan around here.

J. Robbins said...

Hello. You hit the nail on the head. I wish could have put down my thought as you have. By the way, your sone is precious. I will look forward to reading your future posts and I would love to add him to my blog in the link section. Please let me know if that is ok. Julie (Jack's mom)

Great job again by the way!

Anonymous said...

Yay for you for writing about that idiotic show. I had been watching faithfully and was literally raving mad when I witnessed the debacle it became.

The most offensive part is at the end when the mother blames herself for even getting the surgery in the first place. She says something about it destroying any chance the baby would ever have had to hear. Hello? If there was ever enough residual hearing in that ear in the first place, she would never have qualified for the surgery!!


We should meet someday, I'm down in Athens, OHio. Maybe when Drew is a bigger boy we can get our little cuties together!