Cochlear Implant Program

The Cochlear Implant Program at Phoenix Children’s offers multidisciplinary care from a team of specialists dedicated to helping families at every stage of the cochlear implant process. Our team includes pediatric otolaryngologists (head and neck surgeons), audiologists, speech-language pathologists and psychologists who are specially trained in cochlear implantation and provide comprehensive, well-coordinated care for children with hearing loss. 

Your family is an essential part of the care team. Cochlear implants are a lifelong journey and require dedication and determination, initially from family members and eventually from your child. We look forward to getting to know you, understanding your family’s needs and goals, and providing your child with a personalized treatment plan that helps them achieve “total communication".

Your Care Team

The Cochlear Implant Program is part of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Phoenix Children’s. Our team includes:

  • Pediatric otolaryngologists (head and neck surgeons)
    • An otolaryngologist – or ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor – is a surgeon who completes the medical evaluation, orders tests and determines medical candidacy for cochlear implants. Our cochlear implant surgeons are fellowship-trained experts in pediatric cochlear implant surgery. They provide ongoing otologic care throughout the process. They perform the cochlear implant surgery.
  • Audiologists (hearing specialists)
    • An audiologist is a specialist who conducts the tests to determine the type and severity of the hearing loss. They fit the hearing aids and assess whether the devices provide adequate benefit. They also guide your family through the cochlear implant selection process and program the external processor following the surgery. Our audiologists work exclusively with children and their hearing needs. 
  • Speech-language pathologists
    • A speech pathologist is a specialist who assesses speech/language skills before the cochlear implant surgery. They also will work extensively with your child after the surgery to teach proper listening skills and work on language development.
  • Psychologists
    • A psychologist is a specialist who provides family support throughout the cochlear implant process. They offer opportunities to discuss concerns, questions and outcome expectations of implantation. This helps ensure there is adequate family support, motivation and commitment to proceed with surgery. Along with other team members, the psychologist assesses your child’s cognitive functioning and general development. For older children, the psychologist can help prepare your child for what to expect during surgery and post-implantation rehabilitation. Long term, this specialist is available to guide appropriate educational programming and help your child and family explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
  • Genetics
    • Your child may be referred to the genetics department for evaluation and consultation to determine if there is a genetic link to their hearing loss.  

These pediatric specialists have special training and experience in cochlear implantation. They care for children with complex needs and can coordinate with other providers when necessary, including referring physicians from different parts of the state and country. 

Comprehensive Evaluation

The first step of the process is a cochlear implant evaluation. This involves:

  • A consult with each member of the cochlear implant team
  • Evaluations to ensure your child meets the criteria for a cochlear implant
  • Imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT)
  • Referrals to other specialists, if appropriate – These could include a genetics specialist or ophthalmologist (eye specialist), for example

After your child has completed all necessary evaluations and examinations, the team meets to share important information and discuss their findings with each other. They may reach out to your child’s pediatrician and school for more insight. 

The team will decide whether your child is a good candidate for cochlear implants and talk to you about their recommendations. Not every child who goes through the evaluation is a good candidate for cochlear implants. Also, some families decide not to pursue cochlear implantation, opting instead to continue with hearing aids, pursue manual communication (American Sign Language) or use other forms of communication. 

The cochlear implant team will support you and your family, whatever therapies and strategies you decide to pursue. 

Cochlear Implant Surgery

Cochlear implantation is where an incision is made behind the ear to place the implant. The procedure happens under general anesthesia and may be unilateral (one-sided) or bilateral (two-sided).

Operating time varies from 90 minutes to four hours, depending on whether one or both ears are implanted. Most children recover within an hour or two of the surgery and go home the same day.

After the Cochlear Implant

Your child will have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon about two weeks after the surgery in the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Phoenix Children’s.

After this appointment, the Audiology team will activate and program your child's cochlear implant. It is important to know that your child will need to wear the cochlear implant processors for 10+ hours per day if you move forward with a cochlear implant.

Children who are successful with cochlear implantation participate in therapy after surgery and see an audiologist and speech-language pathologist on a consistent schedule. These sessions can be completed at Phoenix Children’s Hospital - Thomas Campus with our speech pathologists, who specialize in teaching children to listen and develop speech skills. Children can receive speech pathology from other providers in the community, such as:

  • Arizona Early Intervention Program
  • Desert Voices 
  • Phoenix Day School for the Deaf 
  • Zimmerman Speech Therapy and other community-based providers

Other factors that influence how well a child does with cochlear implants include:

  • The degree of hearing loss your child has
  • How long your child has had hearing loss
  • The cause of hearing loss
  • How long your child has used hearing aids (if at all)
  • The level of support the family provides the child
  • The child’s language skills before implantation  

Our team will work with your child as they grow and develop and tailor our care to their unique needs. We are here to provide the support you and your child need for success.