[HUMOR] An Oral Failure from Oklahoma

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(The following article was contributed by Angelique N Wahlstedt at 21 Jun 1995.)

In a hope to inject some humor into this newsgroup, here's a piece that I had written in college ten years ago. (While typing in the piece, I made some editing changes and added more information, since deaf education has changed so much since the 1960's that some readers may not be familar with some things in the piece.) Since I was born in 1965, the experiece in this piece should seem familar to some deaf people who were born in early to middle 1960's, especially "Rubella babies." In case anyone is wondering, I'm not a Rubella baby, though I'm certainly the right age. :-)

Please note that this is not intended to criticize oralism. It simply states my experience with oralism, and why it didn't work with me.


An Oral Failure from Oklahoma

My deafness became world knowledge just before I turned three. So, my beleagured mother did what thousands of other mothers, who suddenly discovered themselves not-so-proud guardians of little deaf kids, usually did in the Sixties. She sent away for a John Tracy Clinic correspondence course.

[Author's note: John Tracy Clinic was a famous oralist school in Los Angeles with many services, such as providing lessons in mail to parents who want to teach their small children to lipread. The school was named after the founder's son. When she discovered that John was deaf, she devised ways to teach him to lipread and speak, and then start the school to teach her methods to others.]

Armed with booklets from distinguished John Tracy Clinic, my mother set out on a crusade to turn me into a full-fledged "flapping mouth." She bought tons and tons of toys to use in games to aid my lipreading. She also bought boxes and boxes of the cereal Lucky Charms to use for rewards. Everytime I got a right answer (usually, a lucky guess), I would be treated to a few bits from the ever-present bowl of Lucky Charms. Mom has told me about how she had to drag me to that little white table in my room everyday to work with me. I don't remember those games very well, but I do know that I am deeply in debt to John Tracy Clinic for my present hatred of cereal, and the fact that I was the kid with the biggest collection of toys in the neighborhood.

I remember my mother dragging me to speech therapists at the University of Tulsa all the time (because we were living in Tulsa, Oklahoma then.) But despite all the efforts of Mom and the speech therapists, I never learned to lipread, let alone talk. Though Mom did get me to look at her face at times, how was I supposed to look at my mother's lips all the time? After all, I could have been staring at her nose (and probably become the first person in the world to master the art of nosereading.) But, believe me, gawking at my mother's mouth opening and closing all day long, day after day, can be quite a bit dreadfully dull, and many was the time when Mom's crusade was not to enlighten me in the wonderful ways of lipreading, but to get me to look, for gosh's skae, at her face. And, everyone knows how amazingly long a three-year-old's attention span can be.

"But, haven't you ever wondered about why hearing people move thier mouths a lot?" many people have asked me. Well...to tell you the truth, it somehow never occured to me that the poeple's moving their mouths was a way of communication. I just took it for granted, like walking or smoking a cigarette, and I thought that people were just exercising their lips. In addition, I never made the connection between my speech therapy and people's moving mouths, because people in general don't pull other people's hands to their mouths, make noises like a dishwaser, puff and huff like the big, bad wolf, and make the other people repeat the same feat.

Just before my fourth birthday, I proved to be such a pitiful student that John Tracy Clinic finally accepted me as one of the few honored deaf kids to participate in a seminar at the clinic in Los Angeles. So, for two months in the summer of '69, my mother and I lived at a dormitory in a nearby college, along with two dozens of other mothers and kids from all over the country. (One mother and her daughter came all the way from India.) For me, it was a very delightful experience to remember, because being an only kid, I had about a dozen kids (all wearing those box things with cords and ear plugs just like myself!) to play with all day, in the dorms and in the clinic. We would keep getting into mischief, such as climbing trees (and getting stuck and having to be rescued by exasperated teachers.) But, for Mom who had to wash multi- colored clay and fingerpaint out of my hair and chase me all over the dorms to get me to go to bed every night, it certainly wasn't one of the best summers in her life. However, my lipreading skills didn't improve even a bit. It seemed that every kid at the clinic, even ones younger than me, were outperforming me at lipreading and speech (though the ones who could speak -- or doing something that came close to speaking -- were usually like parrots, repeating whatever a teacher said but not understanding what they were saying.)

Back in Tulsa, I started my first year of school, in a preschool class for the deaf (oral, of course) at a regular elementary school. Thanks to the Rubella epidemic several years earlier, there were so many preschool-age deaf children that the school had to have four classes, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, to accomodate all the kids. I was in one of the afternoon classes, but I had a teacher who hardly provided any speech therapy or auditory training. So, it was as if I was in a hearing class filled with nobody but deaf kids. Not surprisingly, I flunked the class and had to repeat the year (albeit with a different teacher). The reason? I couldn't lipread. What a great start for my education.

To make it worse, the teacher from the first class had hinted to Mom that I might be a slow learner. So, my panic-stricken mother rushed me to a hospital in Kansas City to have my brain analyzed and my IQ tested. Confirmed that I wasn't mentally retarded (as a matter of fact, my intelligence turned to be above normal), Mom finally figured out that the oral method certainly wasn't working with me. After all, one can only go so far in life with a vocabulary consisting entirely of two words: "off" and "shoe". So, my mother sneaked off to sign language class (she would have caught flak from the school district if someone saw her) to learn sign. Soon, I was taught sign language by the new chairman of the speech/hearing department at the University of Tulsa.

Thus, my career of being an oral failure ended at the age of four. At this writing, I have never mastered the fine art of lipreading.

[Author's note: even today, at the ripe age of 30, I still can't read lips, though I certainly can assure you that my vocabulary isn't limited to two words.]

Last update date: 
2005 Nov 30