The 2016 AG Bell Research Symposium was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD), and featured panelists:

Julie Arenberg Bierer, Ph.D., CCC-A

John S. Oghalai, M.D.

René Gifford, Ph.D.

Anu Sharma, Ph.D.

Due to a scheduling conflict (unfortunately, my own session was scheduled midway through the research symposium), I was only able to hear Dr. Anu Sharma speak.  But wow am I glad I did!  Takeaways from her presentation are below:

  • Children with CIs who show the most difficulty understanding speech in noise are also those whose brains have the most cross modal reorganization with the auditory area of the brain being pirated away to the visual centers.  What does this mean in plain English?  Children with CIs who do not receive and practice with auditory input are going to have poorer outcomes!  You use the auditory center of the brain or you lose the auditory center of the brain.

  • The brain has incredibly ability to rewire itself in positive ways, too.  When a child with single sided deafness (one ear profoundly deaf, the other hearing within normal limits) received a CI, at first, the brain’s response to sound in the deaf ear was almost nonexistent.  Fourteen months post-CI, that CI ear responded to sound as a typical ear would.

  • Children with single-sided deafness are helping us understand what CIs really sound like… and the results are pretty darn good!  (See video below)

  • There is a critical period.  We cannot be implanting children at nine and ten years of age and expecting the same results we would for a child who receives a CI at age one.  Waiting to choose is choosing a poorer outcome for the child.

  • For children with auditory neuropathy/dyssynchrony, the level of dyssynchrony, not hearing thresholds, is a better measure of CI candidacy.

  • Even if a child’s MRI shows a hypoplastic auditory nerve, cortical responses post-CI can show good access to sound.  MRIs show structure, but cortical responses show function.  Nontraditional CI candidates’ brains can still make good use of auditory information with time and practice.

  • For a child with ANSD, we can’t wait years to get results with hearing aids.  If hearing aids aren’t providing access, we need to give auditory access with a CI by 18 months at the latest.

  • Everything we know links learning to underlying neural changes in the brain.  If we teach children to learn to listen, their central neural pathways get refined, which leads to improved perception of speech and better listening and spoken language outcomes!

  • Auditory access and rehabilitation change a child’s brain into a listening brain!

All recaps are from my notes, memory, and/or presentation materials made available by the presenters. Any errors or omissions are my own.


  1. This is a brilliant video. Awesome work to the young girl and the audiologist/sound producer. I received a cochlear implant on my left side 3 weeks ago at the age of 31 on what we suspect is a congenital loss, and it’s incredibly hard to describe what I’m feeling/hearing, just like this young girl. Although I’m not sure if I’ll get results anywhere near this, it gives me hope for what might come!! Thank you for sharing!

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