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Book Review:  "Deaf Like Me"
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Spradley, T. & Spradley,. J. (2002). Deaf Like Me. ISBN 0-930323-11-4

Authors:  Thomas S. Spradley and James P. Spradley


Review submitted by:
David Barth

Deaf Like Me

It started in the summer of 1964; Louise and Tom Spradley had gotten pregnant with their second child. Tom, Louise and their first child, three-and-a-half-year-old Bruce, had been at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota when Bruce had come down with the German measles (rubella).

Not knowing what Bruce had come down with; Louise took Bruce to a doctor. The doctor said it was not a big deal but had asked Louise if she was pregnant. She replied that if she was it was only a few days and then the doctor informed her that rubella could cause “congenital defects.” This started nine months of anxiety and fear for Tom and Louise. After finishing up with classes at Carleton College, the Spradley family headed for Los Angeles, California to visit Tom’s parents. In L.A., Louise went to see her old doctor, Dr. Anderson. Dr. Anderson had her come in and he looked at a rash that Louise had noticed on her arm on the way to California. Dr. Anderson told Louise that there was only a twenty five percent chance that a baby would have defects if the mother had rubella within the first three months of being pregnant. Doctor Anderson give Louise a rubella vaccination and that was the end of that until the Spradley family returned home.

In April of 1965 baby Lynn was born. Lynn was “a perfectly normal baby girl!” This is what the doctors had told Tom and Louise when Lynn was born. She did not appear to be retarded, was not missing limbs and her eyes and ears looked okay when they looked at them. Despite the fact that the doctors told Tom and Louise that Lynn was a normal baby, they and others who knew about the risk could not let go of the idea that Lynn wasn’t normal. “You’re all right, aren’t you?” Louise’s mother says to Lynn. It was the fourth of July, 1965, when they were at a parade and Tom noticed that when fire engines drove down the road with their sirens piecing the air that Lynn did not seem to notice anything. Surely she would feel some discomfort from the loud noise, right? For the next few months, Tom and Louise played a game of trying to believe that Lynn was deaf, and then to say, but she laughs when we say something funny, or she is a sound sleeper. Lynn started rolling her eyes and banging her head against the crib, so Louise took her to see their doctor, Dr. Bales. Dr. Bales told her that some babies roll their eyes and bang their heads like Lynn. He looked at her ears and told Louise that he could see nothing wrong with her, but that they could not do any definite tests until she was a few years older. For the next few months, Tom and Louise tried many test to see if Lynn really could hear. Lynn started to form words with her mouth, the first of which was the word “NO” when she was trying to turn off the television. “Lynn was becoming an expert Mimic of everything except our voices.” Worried, Louise took Lynn back to Dr. Bales, and, again Dr. Bales said that Lynn was “too young to tell anything for sure.” Finally, Lynn got recommended to a specialist, and the specialist said there was nothing wrong with her ears. He said that if she was deaf, it was a nerve problem, and an audiologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital should test her.

During the summer the Spradley family headed back out to California, but not to visit parents, to go to the John Tracy Clinic, a clinic that specialized in deafness. Mrs. Caldwell was the audiologist who tested Lynn at he John Tracy Clinic. A series of tests were done, and Lynn did not respond to any of them except for a low drum sound. After some more testing, Mrs. Caldwell told Tom and Louise that Lynn’s hearing loss was an “educable loss.” The Spradleys were told that Lynn appeared to have a “severe hearing impairment.” They were reminded that hearing tests at Lynn’s age were not always reliable.

For the next few weeks, they talked to Lynn as much as they could, they talked to her about everything, as if she could hear. In October, Lynn went to the audiologist in Chicago and found out that Lynn could hear at 65 decibels at a cycle of 250. Despite the fact that is was out of the range of human speech, Tom and Louise held on to that fact. They were told that Lynn needed to be tested again at the age of two and then she could be fitted with a prescription hearing aid. Until then they were given an auditory trainer, which would teach her to use her residual hearing.

Over the next few months, they treated Lynn as if she was a normal child, and sometimes it even seemed like she was normal. Tom and Louise had to sometimes remind themselves that Lynn lived in a world of silence. However, when asked by others about Lynn, they down played her problem.
Over the next few months, Tom, Louise and Bruce worked on trying to teach Lynn to talk without hearing. The only way deaf people could function in society was to learn to read lips and speak. Tom and Louise went to seminars and meetings in Chicago, where they and other parents of deaf children would listen to audiologists give lectures and answer questions that the parents had about deafness. Some of the parents started to get very mad about the program and trying to teach their child to speak. No one wanted his or her child to learn the manual language; that was saved for the deaf and dumb that went to residential schools if they could not learn to speak and read lips.

Tom and Louise also tried using the John Tracy correspondence course. This had games and exercises that parents could do with their child to help them learn to talk and associate things. Tom and Louise tried to see what it was like to be Lynn as they talked, without sound, to one another. But they noticed that it was almost impossible to read lips and understand a language they already knew, so how could Lynn learn to lip read a language she had never known?

Lynn eventually got tested again and got her hearing aid, but when she put it on it did little to help her hear and it hurt her ears to wear it. After much time and effort, they were able to, slowly, get Lynn to wear the hearing aid. The Volta Review was a magazine that Tom read that was full of encouraging stories of deaf children that overcame their deafness and learned to talk and became doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

A few months later, the Spradley family moved to Oklahoma where Tom could go to school and teach. At their new home, there were many other children and a rope swing and a duck pond. Lynn liked the duck and, one day Lynn, just left the house and went to the duck pond, and her parents got very scared.

They had created picture books to try to communicate with Lynn but Lynn got restless and tired of the picture books and not being able to understand what her parent were saying. Lynn went to a school for deaf children in Oklahoma where they used the “oral method.” Lynn would learn to speak; she would be ‘normal’.

Tom got a job at American River College in Sacramento. In Sacramento, Lynn got Meningitis. Lynn was in horrible pain, and Tom and Louise could not communicate with her. It really did not mater that Lynn could lip-read a few words, or any of her other accomplishments. When Lynn was suffering, Tom wanted to communicate. As Tom was walking into the hospital one day he saw some deaf people walking down the street and they were talking with signs and facial expressions. Could Lynn communicate like this? After moving to Sacramento, Lynn went to Starr King School. One night, there was a meeting at Starr King for some concerned parents who wanted to use the manual method. Through the meetings that were happening about oralism vs. manualism, Tom and Louise met Jim and Alice Hudson; they were deaf and used ASL to speak. After talking with Jim and Alice, Tom and Louise got interested in the idea of ASL and learned a few signs.

Tom and Louise signed ‘I love you’ to Lynn and showed her what the signs meant. Soon, Lynn was signing ‘I love you’ back to Tom and Louise. This was the turn around point and they all started to learn sign language. Sign Language was Lynn’s native language, and she had the right to use it.

Spradley, T. & Spradley,. J. (2002). Deaf Like Me. ISBN 0-930323-11-4

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