Linkin hearing clearly thanks to implant

Father Christmas visited the Soal family early this year, son Linkin having his new cochlear implant switched on last week.

The 5-year-old has two hearing conditions: impairment, and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder, which distorts sound.

He has had hearing aids for the past couple of years, but the cochlear implant means he can now hear clearly.

His mother, Sharon, likens the situation to tuning a radio, with Linkin's pre-cochlear hearing akin to an untuned one.

The festive season would be different this year.

''He's not having a distorted Christmas,'' she said.

Linkin's mother, Sharon Soal.However, the implant was the start of a long journey, and his parents hope he will become fluent in sign and spoken language.

At first, Linkin did not react when the implant was switched on, but when its volume was increased, he wanted it taken out.

''Even now, every now and then he'll say, 'no, I don't want it', but he does want it, he does want to hear,'' she said.

His hearing loss was not detected until he was 2 years and nine months old.

Mrs Soal believed the late diagnosis was partly because of the documented problems at Dunedin Hospital's audiology department, described this year in two health and disability deputy commissioner reports.

Linkin was checked for glue ear at the hospital, which did not pick up the hearing loss.

Because he ''got by'' visually and used gestures, for a long time she had not suspected he had a hearing problem, and thought only that he was not an early talker.

The operation to insert the implant was performed at St George's Hospital, in Christchurch, late last month.

The Dunedin family will travel to Christchurch several more times in the coming months for refinements to the implant settings.

It was not a straightforward decision to go ahead with the implant, and at first, husband Gary was unsure whether it was the right thing to do.

The procedure risked destroying Linkin's residual hearing because of the nature of the operation.

Mr Soal acknowledged he was initially cautious, but the result looked promising.

It was too early to be certain, but he believed Linkin's language had improved already.

The Government funds only one cochlear implant, and it would be beneficial for him to have a second one if possible, Mrs Soal said.

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