As someone who spent the first 2 1/2 years of his life in almost total
silence, the 6-year-old Rittman boy is keenly aware that anything's possible
-- even convincing an adult that a large kitchen appliance can go poof!
It's April Fools' DAY, in the home of a young prankster who was born hearing impaired.
``Gone, Mom!' Chris says.
While he's in the kitchen describing the phenomenon, his mother, Donna
Robertson, is in the living room, saying sure, I know, Chris, it's April
Stubborn lad that he is, Chris reiterates the strange case of the missing
His mother relents, goes to the kitchen and looks with exaggerated surprise at the refrigerator.
`April Fools' Day, Mom,' Chris says.
Mother and son laugh in each other's arms.
The episode illustrates just how far they've come together. Chris doesn't
have to be in the same room with the person he communicates with. He hears
without reading lips and speaks without using his hands.
That achievement happens daily for thousands of hearing-impaired children
who wear hearing aids and undergo an intense regimen of speech and language
therapy in clinics and at home.
It's called Auditory-Verbal, an approach to communication that is neither
new nor well-known. When given the chance, the approach works better than any other method, proponents say.
`I can show you hundreds of kids who are Auditory-Verbal graduates,' says Carol Flexer, University of Akron professor in the School of Communicative
Disorders. `They're living independently. There is a very high potential
One in every 1,000 children has a profound hearing loss in both ears.
Another seven in 1,000 children have a mild hearing loss. Traditionally, these kids learn to sign or read lips.
Auditory-Verbal is an option. Its philosophy: Children with all degrees of hearing loss deserve a chance to develop speech and listening skills. Its
goal: Mainstreaming children through school with students who speak and hear
The Auditory-Verbal program at UA is the only one of its kind in Ohio,
Flexer says. Currently, 15 children are enrolled there, and 10 are on its
`We have to actively teach every sound,' Flexer says. `We don't count on
the child just picking it up.'
Donna Robertson and her husband, William, enrolled in the UA program after his sister discovered a book about the Auditory-Verbal approach in the Wooster library.
That discovery provided a huge lift to Chris' parents, says William
Robertson, 42. By that time, Chris was already 2 years old.
`For the first couple years, we had a frustrated little boy around,'
Robertson said. `He wasn't getting them (words) and he had a lot to say and
There was no miracle cure, just the faith that anything really is possible for a child with serious hearing loss. That faith, coupled with a massive
commitment in time (Donna stays home every day) and money (hearing aids start at $700; therapy costs about $7,500 a year) have given Chris a future that
might otherwise be closed to him.
In 1988, he was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss.
`It hit me very bad,' says Donna, 40, a trained musician. `It was a
depressing situation. I could barely say `deaf.' We cried so bad.'
For the first 2 1/2 years of his life, his ears simply didn't pick up his
parents' voices, or any sound softer than a freight train rushing by.
Hearing experts told the Robertsons that Chris lacked the necessary
residual hearing to use hearing aids. They got them for him anyway. The
results provoked an emotional response. He walked over to the piano and began hitting the keys.
`He hugged me when he first heard something,' Mrs. Robertson says. `He
wouldn't even take a nap. He didn't want them (hearing aids) off.'
At North Street School, when Chris' kindergarten teacher, Karen Lanson,
talks to the class, Chris hears every word. Lanson wears a microphone on her
blouse and an FM radio transmitter in a fanny pack. Chris picks up her voice
as though she were 6 inches away, thanks to a radio receiver in his fanny
`It gives him a lot of independence,' Lanson said. `He's able to do what
the other students are able to do. He keeps up real well. If, for some reason, he doesn't pick it up, he asks again and I restate it.'
Karen Farrar, his therapist, says a hearing-impaired child must hear a word 3,000 to 4,000 times before he or she understands it.
`Chris wants to fit in and he can,' Farrar said. `He can joke. He
Skeptical? Ask him about his refrigerator.