Programming the cochlear implant - called "mapping", refers to the setting of the electrical stimulation limits necessary for Ava to perceive soft and comfortably loud sounds. During mapping, the threshold and comfort levels of each individual electrode (which is in the internal implant) are adjusted in order for Ava to hear a wide range of sounds. There are 22 electrodes. Threshold adjustments are what allows for access to environmental and soft speech sounds. Comfort level adjustment refer to the amount of electrical current needed to hear a comfortably loud beeping signal. These measurements are downloaded into Ava's processors. The initial settings on her CI's are very, very low right now. So, while she will hear environmental sounds like the phone ringing or door knocking and our speech, the settings are too low for her to discriminate the different speech sounds. The audiologist instructed us to increase the sensitivity on her CI's every other day so that there is a gradual introduction to sound, so as not to bombard with so much sound that it would be uncomfortable. Next week we return to the audiologist for another mapping session. Then, her mapping sessions will be on a monthly basis. Mapping sessions are required as over time the settings can become weak due to tissue growth surrounding the implant, thus needing more power or electrical stimulation. Also, when maps are new, they sound really loud to Ava. As she adapts to the volume levels, the volume will seem weaker to her over time and the signal will no longer be strong enough. Therefore her processors will be always be mapped time after time. When a map is performed efficiently, Ava's hearing should be in normal to near normal range!!!
So now that she can hear, what do we do?
Ava will continue with her weekly auditory verbal therapy. There is a hierarchy of learning oral language. First, Ava's receptive language will need to be developed before she can start to talk. She is at square one, like a newborn baby. She now has to learn to listen to all the different sounds in her world. She needs to detect sounds (called Auditory Awareness) - such as the door, phone, a dog barking. Then she has to learn to discriminate sounds such as a cat meowing vs a dog barking or recognize her name being called. There are several additional steps to learning receptive language but I will get into that as we follow her progress. We will be spending our first several weeks pointing out all the sounds for Ava. For example, when the phone rings, we will excitedly point to our ear, look at Ava and say "do you hear that?" and then point to the phone and say "phone". We will praise her everytime she vocalizes. She will learn that language is power.
Ava is already amazing us with her very obvious awareness of sound around her. She is constantly turning her head, although not consistently yet, to the sound of my voice, at close range. She is responding to a knocking sound and clapping sound. I put a baby Einstein video on for her and in the past, she would look at the video then stop to play with something or divert her attention to something else. Today, however, she stared intently at the video and did not move a muscle throughout the whole video! I positioned the speakers so that they were facing towards her. It was incredible to watch!