El Deafo Extras: Audiology and ephemera from Mom’s vault

27 Aug

My mother is not a hoarder. She rarely saves anything. She gleefully throws stuff away or gives things to Goodwill whenever given a chance. All greeting cards, receipts, and flyers are torn into squares and used as note paper. However, she chose to save a lot of paperwork over the years that was related to my hearing loss. She saved the Phonic Ear, too. It was almost like she knew that all that stuff would be useful to me some day. It was! I looked back over all of it when trying to figure out various bits and pieces for El Deafo.

Here’s an early hearing test that Mom saved. It’s not the first one I ever had, but still very early. I think it was at the beginning of the summer before I started first grade.


I remember really liking the colored pencils that the audiologist used to make those pretty marks! I know my parents weren’t quite as thrilled. To do a test like this, you have to go inside a little soundproof booth and put on headphones and listen out for various tones, high and low. Here’s how I portrayed that first hearing test in my book:





Does the background in that last panel look kinda familiar?

I have a life-long fear of elevators; I’m pretty sure that the tiny soundproof booth has a lot to do with it.

Here’s some audiology photo reference I took for the book. To get the photos, I visited my audiologist from Roanoke, VA., Dr. Michael Ridenhour, who was getting ready to retire. He’d been my audiologist since I was 5, so we’re talking about a relationship that had lasted over 35 years. I loved him as a kid because he was hilarious and efficient and there was no “you’re so special” kind of talk coming out of him. As an adult, we agreed to disagree about politics, and laughed so hard his receptionist would come in to check on us. I wish he hadn’t retired! Anyway, you can see a little bit of his sense of humor in this collage of reference photos:


The hearing test that I showed at the beginning of this post was administered not by Dr. Ridenhour, however, but by a different audiologist, Dr. Dick Hawkins. I actually had two audiologist for a long time—Ridenhour was my home hearing aid guy and made all my ear molds; Hawkins was my school hearing aid guy and also set up speech therapy stuff for me. The hearing test led Dr. Hawkins to write up this report, which had a huge impact on my life…


…because on the second page (shown below), Dr. Hawkins suggested that I use the Phonic Ear. He thought that it would help me, and he was right. It really did help. In fact, when I finally learned to embrace the technology, the “FM auditory trainer” he recommended gave me the superpowers I wrote about in the book! Check out the second paragraph in “Recommendations and Comments”:


Now check out this piece of paper from Mom’s vault:


Did you see how much that puppy cost? I was a very lucky kid in so many ways, including the fact that my parents were able to afford the Phonic Ear and various other hearing aids that came my way. Thanks again, Mom and Dad.

Only ONE WEEK until the book comes out! Huzzah!

In other news, today was a BIG DAY of new book releases by some really cool authors and illustrators! Happy Book Birthday to Raina Telgemeier (SISTERS), Dan Santat (BEEKLE), Kazu Kibuishi (AMULET #6), Scott Campbell (HUG MACHINE), Mike Curato (LITTLE ELLIOT, BIG CITY), Jenni Holm (THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH), Aaron Becker  (QUEST), and Mo Willems (who had twins: WHO SAYS THAT, CAT THE CAT and WHO SLEEPS, CAT THE CAT).

Thanks for reading!



2 Responses to “El Deafo Extras: Audiology and ephemera from Mom’s vault”

  1. M's mom November 16, 2014 at 5:55 am #

    Wow – I thought FM systems were expensive now, but actually the price is almost exactly the same. If you consider inflation, they are actually quite a good deal these days.

    (I assume you already know – with a booth test like that in 2014, a child would be on the fast track to a cochlear implant!)

    • Cece Bell November 16, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

      Oh yeah, I’m certain I would’ve been outfitted with a cochlear implant, for sure. I’m glad the FM systems are still a good deal. Mine pretty much paved the way for me in so many ways. Thanks so much for writing!

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