There is an early scene in El Deafo, after I’ve gotten my first hearing aid, in which I talk to my friend Emma for the first time:
It’s the only place in the book where I acknowledge that yes, not only did things sound funny to me, but I sounded funny to other people. Just like Emma and other kids my age (4 and a half), I was still learning the nuances of tongue placement and all that other stuff that goes with learning how to talk. Without sound (or with a version of sound that’s a bit warped due to hearing aids), it gets a lot harder to master speech.
The book was originally going to have a whole chapter addressing all the speech therapy I had to have. I “Elmer Fudd-i-fied” my speech balloons, as I was hung up on the same letters Elmer was: S, Z, R. But having my speech look like that was very distracting, and perhaps too hard to understand. And the book was getting longer and longer…so my amazing editor, Susan Van Metre, and I decided to drop that chapter altogether. Susan also wisely reasoned that as a kid, I didn’t think I talked funny—I was just talking. I do wish, for the sake of deaf/HOH children reading the book, that there was a little bit more about speech therapy in the book. But I was trying to tell the story completely from my point of view as a kid, so showing my speech as what I thought it was and not what others might have been hearing actually works a lot better.
So, the truth is I had a LOT of speech therapy. I didn’t like it one bit. I hated it when the speech therapist would show up at the door of my classroom and make an announcement that it was time for me to go to a tiny janitor’s closet and say “Ssssammy sssssnake ssssitzzzz on hizzzzz ssssstool” for the 58th time. My speech therapist, Ann Orem, was a very nice person, but I treated her like dirt. (And I forgot to mention her in the acknowledgments of the book, which is further dirt treatment! Good grief, I need to acknowledge her and giver her an apology!) Here are some things from my mother’s vault:
I kept seeing Mrs. Orem for a while. Eventually, however, my parents enrolled me in speech therapy at the Roanoke Valley Speech and Hearing Center, where one of my audiologists, Dr. Hawkins, worked. (RVSHC was a great place, and probably still is). I did a lot better there, and that wasn’t because Mrs. Orem was a lesser therapist. It was because the new lessons were private and I didn’t have to miss all the cool things that Mrs. Eichleman was doing in class.
Mrs. Orem re-evaluated me later, and glory be, my parents got this note:
The truth is, though, that I probably wasn’t really ready to be exited from the program. I still struggle a bit with speech. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so stubborn! There are times that I’ll be talking to someone who doesn’t know me very well, and a subtle look of self-satisfaction in that person’s face will appear (maybe because that person feels like his/her perceptive skills are more finely tuned than others’), after which that person will say, “Are you deaf? I can tell because you talk funny.” A note to well-meaning folks who might want to say this: Don’t. It’s a total conversation killer. (Argh, I had told myself not to be mean-spirited with this blog, but oh, well. Forgive me.)
Only 6 more days until the book comes out! Thanks for reading! And here’s a little video I did for Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird, whose new book WILD THINGS, ACTS OF MISCHIEF IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE is out now!