Blah Blah Blah: Why Words Are So Important

Recently, I’ve been having many conversations in classes and with friends surrounding the topic of words. As a psychology major, I’m taking a class called Sensation and Perception. It’s about how our bodies respond to the environment (sensation) and how we experience those responses when they occur (perception). Much of our discussions in class focus on how disabilities affect our abilities to sense and perceive. This past week, we focused on deafness and the impact of cochlear implants.

There are certain tests doctors and nurses do to make sure a newborn is healthy. Oftentimes, this involves checking for disabilities that may not seem obvious to the eye. Most of the time, when a baby is born deaf, it’s noticed quickly and preparation for a cochlear impact begins immediately. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is placed deep inside the ear. Its job is to mimic the parts of the ear that are damaged or not fully developed. You might assume (like I did) that once an implant is placed, that’s that. The child can now hear and everything should be normal. I never really took time to think of how that’s not necessarily how it works.

In class, we talked about Dr. Dana Suskind. She performs cochlear implant surgeries and pointed out that children with cochlear implants across varying socioeconomic statuses are often introduced to a different amount of words early on in their lives. The vocabulary of a child in an upper class family differs from that of a child in a less wealthy family. Why does that matter? Because a child in a less wealthy family with a cochlear implant may then know and use fewer words, even though this implant was theoretically supposed to make everything normal. This has an impact on the child’s entire future and what’s deemed as their success. Words cost nothing. Yet, class still places a large role in vocabulary and general education. For me, it’s upsetting to know and understand this difference, and the impact it has on such a specific population.

Growing up, my family wasn’t always comfortable economically. Moments and discussions such as these remind me of how deep disparities run in our world. It blows my mind that something as simple as words show these large impacts. It’s a bittersweet realization. On one hand, it makes me sad to know how words impact lives. On the other hand, I’m glad to know it’s another thing I can be aware of in the future, especially as someone so interested in childcare. I can only hope these disparities change over time.