Deaf Like Me, a compilation by Thomas and James Spradley, shares the poignant journey of two parents who are hearing impaired themselves as they face the challenges of raising their profoundly deaf daughter. This moving narrative eloquently captures the emotions of love, hope, and apprehension that all hearing parents experience when raising a child with deafness. In the epilogue, Lynn Spradley, now a teenager, offers reflections on different aspects of her life while growing up with hearing loss.
Reflecting on her education, her struggle to communicate, and the revelation that she was the muse and primary subject of her father and uncle’s collaborative book, Deaf Like Me touches the heart and inspires all parents, relatives, and friends of deaf children worldwide. Lynn, the name of the child envisioned as the epitome of perfection for an ideal family, had a mother named Louise who contracted German measles during her pregnancy, uncertain if Lynn would also inherit the illness.
Louise had hoped for her baby Lynn to be healthy when she was born. Over time, she was thrilled to watch her beautiful baby girl grow. However, when Lynn was about 3 months old, Louise started to suspect that something might be wrong. According to Thomas Spradley’s accounts, it was on the 4th of July, three months later, that he noticed a potential issue with his daughter. On that day, Louise, their son Bruce, the grandparents, and baby Lynn had gone to a lively parade celebrating Independence Day. The parade was filled with excitement and noise.
Despite the chaos of fire engines, noisy crowds, cheering, and exploding fireworks, Louise noticed that baby Lynn remained unfazed and unaffected by the noise. Intrigued by this observation, Louise conducted several other tests to assess her daughter’s hearing over the next few months. However, these self-tests proved to be inconsistent and unreliable, as their effectiveness varied. Frustrated with the inconclusive results, Louise and her partner decided to seek medical advice and took Lynn to see a doctor.
The doctor informed them that Lynn couldn’t be tested until she turned 2 years old, causing them anxiety. Unsatisfied with the doctor’s failure to diagnose, Louise sought a second opinion. It was at the new doctor’s office where she learned that Lynn was indeed deaf. Despite feeling disheartened by this news, Louise made what she believed was the best medical decision for her daughter and had hearing aids created for Lynn. Additionally, she taught Lynn how to lip read in order to communicate orally. Over the years, with consistent practice, Lynn became extremely proficient in lip reading, eventually becoming highly skilled.
Doctors and friends advised Louise to refrain from using gestures or sign language with Lynn, but instead to speak to her and treat her like a normal child in the hopes that she would eventually learn to speak. However, even at the age of 5, Lynn still hadn’t started talking as expected. As a result, she was enrolled in an oral school from ages 3 to 5. Although she initially enjoyed attending, difficulties arose over time due to her inability to communicate verbally. Frustration led Lynn to develop a confrontational attitude towards classmates—bullying, pushing, and hitting them. These challenges persisted both at school and home as she grew older.
A lot of the time, Louise and Thomas struggled to comprehend Lynn’s desires or requests, which often resulted in violent outbursts that angered Lynn even more. In response, Lynn decided to stop learning new words for lip reading. The expressions on Thomas and Louise’s faces clearly showed that their preferred method of oral teaching was not effective for their child. Nevertheless, Tom and Louise stubbornly chose to ignore their daughter’s disability, strongly believing that they did not want to teach her “animalistic gestures.”
At the age of 5, Lynn’s mother, Louise, received a notice from Volta Review in the mail. This notice intrigued her as she was interested in connecting with other parents who also had children facing similar challenges. In order to meet these parents and learn from their experiences, Louise decided to attend a gathering where advice and teaching methods were shared.
During this meeting, one man stood out as he spoke about his personal journey of becoming deaf at the age of 6 after previously being able to hear. He mentioned that losing his hearing at such a young age actually made it easier for him to rely on oral speech.
The speaker highlighted the difficulty for individuals born deaf to develop spoken language skills. Despite his less-than-perfect articulation, the audience comprehended his message. He supported sign language as a vital communication tool within the deaf community and stressed the necessity of having an interpreter present, as he relied on one himself during the meeting. Posing a thought-provoking question to parents, he asked how children could communicate with their parents or share school experiences without any means of communication. This speech caused Louise to reevaluate her perspective on sign language.
After the meeting, Louise began using sign language with Lynn, which aided in Lynn’s acceptance of her as she was. Louise also recognized that communication through hand gestures is far more effective than solely relying on spoken language. I perceive this book as a captivating depiction of a family’s battle. The reason I value this book is because it doesn’t conceal Louise’s genuine emotions regarding her daughter’s situation. Realizing that your child has a disability is not an easy reality to accept. It poses challenges because not only does your own way of life undergo changes but the entire family must adjust and embrace.
The central focus of this book revolves around Lynn’s mother and her difficulties in adapting her lifestyle to meet the needs of her daughter. Despite thinking she was acting in the best interest of the child, it ultimately had adverse consequences. It is regrettable that numerous Americans demonstrate prejudice and lack of knowledge towards unfamiliar cultures and lifestyles. The mere thought of terminating the pregnancy deeply saddened me. The doctors did not anticipate the development of a third arm but instead considered the possibility of inheriting congenital flaws.
In my opinion, extreme methods should only be considered depending on the circumstance. I also disagreed with her characterization of sign language as animalistic gestures, which I found to be selfish. However, I understood that she didn’t want her child to be seen as different. Additionally, I saw her attempt to expand her communication with her child as a coping mechanism. Overall, the story “Deaf Like Me” portrayed a mother’s struggle to help her deaf child speak and fit in. Similar to her child, this mother had to adapt and redefine what is considered normal.