Read My Lips ~ Part 2

(Posted May 19, 2014)

Read Part 1 and Part 3.

by Jo Otterholt

Being born deaf in the 1950’s meant having a hidden disability, that often was not discovered for several  years. Adding that we were born prematurely, my twin and I were given plenty of time to reach developmental milestones. Our first few months, we lived in a camper trailer that was dragged from town-to-town by a surplus Army Jeep that Dad had purchased with his GI check. In fact, when we were 4-5 months old, we slept together in a padded boot box!  Then, we graduated to sleeping together in a dresser drawer.  Dad’s youngest sister,  4-year old Pee-wee, (he had 14 siblings) said of her first glimpse of us when we were about 5 months old, “Your hands looked like bird claws!”

My early childhood memories are about things – things that we could see but didn’t hear. We used our vision not only to see things but to acquire language. Dad always squatted down to eye-to-eye level, when playing with us. Memories of mom were of sitting next to her in a rocking chair, while she was sewing matching outfits for us – mine always with lace, including sewing lace onto my socks! And when she was cooking, she would often seat us on the kitchen counter, both to keep us out of mischief and to talk to us. Our older brother liked reading books and comics to us, or telling us about things over and over, while we played in the yard. Our worried parents were told by family members and even our physician, that given our premature birth- they could expect us to be delayed, even cognitively delayed. Early checks of our hearing by the doctor shaking keys behind our backs, we would always turn to the sound – not because we heard it, but because our twin saw it and via observing the shift of his eyes, I would turn to see what was happening behind me. And vice versa for him.

Jo and brother pic read my lips 2

Our first grade picture

Early memories of sounds – or lack thereof – were of Mom trying to get us to pay attention to her caged canary singing – and seeing the bird with open beak meant it was singing. Dad had a rumble in his chest while his mouth-lips were moving. Mom did not have the same rumble – but sometimes a slight vibration in her throat. Our older brother, Donny, would just talk loudly in our ear and gesture. Our parents did a lot of experimenting to alert us to hearing sounds when we were toddler to preschool age. But they were unable to confirm their suspicions of our hearing loss – as the doctor assured them that we could hear the jingling of his keys from behind us.

We received tricycles for our 3rd birthdays – which we promptly turned over one-day, and using Daddy’s tools, we completely took apart both tricycles. Mom was dismayed to discover our trike’s  handlebars, seats, and wheels were disjointed from the frames – on both trikes.  She spanked us, fed us a lunch, and sent us to bed. When we wakened from our naps, she was still struggling to put our trikes together. So we joined her, and quickly reassembled our trikes – even adjusting the handlebars and seats to our heights. This incidence reinforced our parents belief that we were plenty bright enough – just didn’t pay attention when they were talking – and didn’t say very many words that they could understand. They did say that we called each other “Diggy” and “Jenny.” And that we chattered to each other, often with our heads touching, as well as mouthing words that only we seemed to understand, but they had no clue what we were saying. Mom likened us to “chattering magpies.”

Finally when we were 4-years old, our next door neighbor’s son came home from college during Easter-Spring break. He was studying to become an audiologist. They invited him to come to the house and ‘test’ us. He separated us, so he could check us individually- and we could not alert each other to a sound from behind us. While one of us was distracted by a parent in another room, he made numerous noises behind the one he was testing by shaking keys, rattling paper, and calling our names. Based on our lack of responses, he recommended that my parents take both of us to an audiologist in Denver, to be tested professionally. Finally, they were going to be able to confirm their suspicions of our hearing loss.

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

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