hi, old friends

Tobie Stanger (75753.2016@compuserve.com)
17 Nov 95 15:29:48 EST

Howdy, classmates

I wrote a long essay that somehow evaporated into the ether after I sent it to
the wrong e-mail address. I hope this one survives.

I guess it's reassuring that some things never change: i.e., Neal McBurnett
still confused me with Tina Seelig in an earlier e-mail. He wondered what my
new book was about. Well, you're not exactly wrong, Neal, because I did write
a book on auto insurance for Consumer Reports a couple years ago. Not quite as
exciting as Tina's concepts, but it paid for a new roof!

In fact, auto insurance continues to be my "specialty" at Consumer Reports,
where I've been a writer for the past 5 years. Happily, it's not the only
subject I work on. I've also written about airlines, department stores, taxes,
the dairy industry, low-fat foods, shampoos, electronic pianos, and any number
of other products and services. I had the most fun with department stores: Got
to fly around the country to go shopping. Consumer Reports is a great place to
work: lots of interesting, friendly, basically liberal people. By the way, if
any of you need shopping advice, feel free to contact me. For every product, I
know the maven.

Currently, however, I'm not working. I'm on a year's leave of absence to spend
time with my 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Julia. I'm not at all bored as I feared,
however, because I have my work cut out for me: Julia is profoundly deaf and
my husband Jim Reisler and I are trying to teach her to speak.

If you think this sounds difficult, you're right. The approach we're using
-called the "oral" approach" - involves intensive speech therapy, auditory
training (teaching Julia how to listen for sounds), and lip-reading lessons.
Julia will probably need to be tutored for years. And the likelihood is that,
while she'll eventually catch up to her peers, her language development will
be slow.

So why not just teach her American Sign Language first? Because,
paradoxically, it's so easy. Kids who learn signing before speech, or
simultaneously with speech invariably end up using mainly sign. And from the
literature I've read, kids who mainly sign do poorly academically. One study
showed signing high-school seniors have an average reading level of fourth
grade. On the other hand, we've met a number of oral deaf kids who are doing
very well in a mainstreamed school, and communicating well with their hearing
friends. That's an option we'd like to leave open for Julia.

Fortunately, Julia recently received a cochlear implant, a sort of artificial
ear that is aiding her hearing tremendously. In short, a small computer called
a speech processor translates speech and environmental sound into electric
(electronic?) impulses that are picked up by the auditory nerve and perceived
by the brain as sound. The whole contraption is fairly small, involving a
small earpiece and a little box worn on a harness on the child's body. You
really can't even see the earpiece when Julia's blonde hair covers it.

Many Deaf people are against this device, because they feel it's wrong to
tamper with the body of a person who could communicate perfectly well without
such radical measures. A few even feel it's akin to genocide, because it's
denying profoundly deaf children access to the wide world of Deaf culture (a
capital "D" denotes a person who mainly signs and considers himself part of a
defined cultural minority). To that, I say bullshit! If, later in life, Julia
wants to learn to sign and to join Deaf culture, we would support that
decision. But at least we can say we made it possible for her to have options.
If she learns to sign first, the speech option is basically closed to her
after a few years of age.

Most gratifying about our decision is that the implant is beginning to work!
It has been activated about six weeks, and already Julia is hearing things she
never heard before, particularly in high-frequency ranges: the telephone, a
tea kettle, a power lawn mower, the microwave oven. What's more, we're
starting to hear new sounds from her, indicating that she's beginning to
process the speech sounds she hears. In a couple months, we expect she'll be
producing new words and on her way to an "oral" life in the mainstream. We are
witnessing a miracle.

>From this dissertation one might conclude that I think about nothing from deaf
education and implants. In fact, I've been busy with lots of stuff during my
leave. Writing a screenplay with a neighbor, for one (who isn't?). And I've
thought a lot about high school. Such a seminal time. Unfortunately, the
negative stuff seems to rise to the surface first.

So here's a question to ponder: If you were like Peggy Sue and had the chance
to go back and do it again, would you?

My answer: Yes, if it meant having more fun and worrying less about what
everyone thought of me. No, if it meant attending another mandatory pep rally.

I await your answers, fellow classmates. Ciao.

- Tobie Stanger