Read My Lips ~ Part 1

(Posted April 24, 2014)

Read Part 2 and Part 3.

by Jo Otterholt

Being deaf or hard of hearing is a condition, not an identity. Most deaf people are pointed out as being ‘that deaf person;’ it is a low-incidence disability, only affecting 1.1 newborns per 1,000 births. Thus, a baby wearing hearing aids or a toddler with the components of a CI clearly visible – will be pointed out as “that deaf baby.” And babies with a hearing loss, do grow up to become deaf adults – usually with one or more modalities for communicating via; sign language, wearing hearing aids or not, using some oral skills with lip-reading, or using a cochlear implant (CI.)

Research shows critical brain development occurs via natural acquisition of language in the baby’s first six (6) months of life and even a few weeks before birth. After that, there is a short window of seven (7) years to acquire language via focused attention-directed teaching of environmental sounds, speech sounds, and language. Sign language is also learned naturally via vision during this same time frame, with a baby or toddler being able to expressively produce signs their caretaker can understand. There are a number of You Tube videos posted by parents and caretakers, of babies and toddlers signing. A benefit of sign language is it reduces the frustration level of both deaf and hearing toddlers – thus basic sign language is offered in many daycares.

Cochlear Implants, hearing aids, hearing screenings, and early intervention are all relatively recent developments of the past 75 years. Before that, deafness was often seen as a malady or defect in an individual child or adult. In some ancient societies, a deaf person was revered as being able to hear the spiritual world and held in high esteem. Whereas in other societies, an enraged deaf person would be incarcerated or assassinated because of his or her inability to communicate basic thoughts or needs with others. We all know about the frustrations exhibited by a two or three year old child unable to tell their parent or caretaker what they want. As a quote from Helen Keller, “Blindness separates us from things; but deafness separates us from people.”

I have been invited to share my thoughts on this blog. Assuming you have read the above paragraphs, I hope you will join me with your thoughts and experiences, specific to deafness or hearing loss.

1-year twins

My twin brother and I were born prematurely in 1952 – just as doctors were able to save premature babies with oxygen – but still determining how much was enough and how much was too much – thus resulting in blindness. Our doctor may have erred on the side of too little – thus slowing the development of the auditory neurological system, essential for deciphering speech. Another theory for our deafness caused at birth, was from medication used to sustain our lives. We were born at 28-29 gestational weeks old; our parents were given no hope for our survival. However, our doctor was sensitive to the fact that we were twins – and had us placed together in an isolette for 3-months. At the end of this time my brother, Jerry, was strong enough to go home; but I remained for another month. My parents would bring Jerry to the hospital every day, allowing him to cuddle with me for an hour or longer, thus allowing me to continue to gain weight and the ability to thrive.

And thus, I will begin my ramblings, or these days – my first blogging experience…

Jo Otterholt
Wyoming Department of Education
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Outreach Services
Resource Specialist

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