El Deafo Extras: Speech therapy

27 Aug

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:


This is probably from the first speech test that I had at my new school, around the beginning of first grade.


Say it ain’t so! I would’ve put my name down for 1 – 10 under “OPPOSE RECOMMENDATION” if I had had a say in the matter. I was cooperative for a while, until about a year and a half later…


So what, I never brought my speech book home? All part of my evil scheme to NOT PRACTICE.


Mrs. Orem was trying so hard! Why did I have to be so stubborn? Even my mom was being uncooperative by not being home when Mrs. Orem called. That poor, sweet woman.


Mom writes back. On the back of a piece of lined notebook paper, at that. Doesn’t Mrs. Orem deserve better? You can see from this note that my mom was a great advocate for me. She totally understood how I was feeling. I think I did a little better after that, but…


…it ain’t over yet!

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!

8 Responses to “El Deafo Extras: Speech therapy”

  1. PTinVA August 28, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    Hi Cece, I’m a new SLP at an elementary school in VA and was so excited to see the review in NYTimes! I have pre-ordered your book and cannot wait to read it (and maybe even use it in therapy)! I’ve already shared your blog with other speechies. 🙂

    • Cece Bell August 28, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

      Hi hi hi! Thanks for your kind note. I hope I didn’t offend speech therapists everywhere with that post! I was a stubborn kid who didn’t like to leave the classroom. What was I gonna miss? Sure hope you and other SLPs enjoy the book, or get something of value out of it. I’d love it if you shared it with some of your students! Thanks again. Did you know that I’m in VA, too? Small world. Many good wishes to you!

  2. Eva Mullenbach January 10, 2015 at 2:10 am #

    I had speech therapy in preschool for autism – for two years!
    I don’t remember it, though.
    Your book is beautiful and I read it (almost) twice in a day at school! Disorders aren’t fun, especially when I have to deal with a lot of work; extra stress from Anxiety and extreme awkwardness due to Autism doesn’t help!
    Also, I like the plethora of rabbits.

    • Cece Bell January 10, 2015 at 11:17 am #

      Eva, thank you for your note! I really appreciate it. Yeah, I reckon speech therapy comes in many forms…I like the word “plethora.” You don’t see that one every day. You are supercool, that’s for sure! Thanks again for writing! Xoxo

  3. Maddy Bishop September 8, 2015 at 5:02 pm #

    Hi my name is maddy and I personally love this book!!!It really touched me and I would love for you to make a second book to go along with it and trust me I would so love to read it and I did this book for a book report and I actually loved it when I just choose a book and I am so very glad for my choice and I wouldn’t trade my decision for any other book!!!!!!!!Please send me an email at s20.mbishop@sels.us and I am 13 and I also go to Southeastern and I can relate to you cause,I have been moved to a lot of diff. schools aswell!!!

    • Cece Bell September 9, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

      Hi Maddy! Thanks so much for reading the book and doing a book report on it. That’s awesome. I’m thrilled that you liked the book–there’s nothing harder than having to do a report on a book that you don’t really like that much. I’m hoping that there will be another book but right now I’m working on other projects so it could be years before a second El Deafo comes out. We shall see! Thanks so much for writing. All the best to you!

  4. Kaitlyn May 4, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    I read your book 4 times and voted for Morning Calm

    • Cece Bell May 6, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

      Hi Kaitlyn! Thanks for reading my book (4 times? WOW!) and for voting for it! Much appreciated. XOXO! Cece

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