One Family’s Journey:
Wrong About Tyler
Almost nine years ago my son, Tyler, came into my life by accident. My husband and I had decided to become foster parents. One of the first steps in this process is a home study by a local social worker. The social worker asked us a series of routine questions amongst which was the question: would we accept a child of a different race and would we accept a child with special needs? Because we live in a rural, conservative area of Virginia where racial acceptance has been slow in coming, we replied that we would prefer a child of our same race and that we would accept an older child but not a child with special needs. Imagine our surprise when several months later the social worker called requesting we foster an infant of a different race who has spent his first 35 days of life in a neonatal intensive care unit. That long in an NICU often indicates the child will have special needs. However, the medical professionals at this hospital assured us that there was no indication that Tyler would have any residual complications. Boy, were they wrong!
Within the first couple of weeks of caring for baby Tyler, we noticed he did not turn to bright lights or loud sound and he could not voluntarily move his limbs. Tests were scheduled and the news was distressing; there was no evidence of vision or hearing, and no explanation for the lack of limb movement. “Don’t get attached,” I was told. “He’s not your son; he might return to his biological family. Even if he stays with you he’ll need to be institutionalized.” Boy, were they wrong!
Two years later, we finally had a diagnosis of auditory neuropathy, vision has developed, and although Tyler was not walking well, he was walking. Six months after that, his biological family rights were terminated and we began the adoption process.
Tyler, now eight years old, lives with us in the same small, rural, conservative town. He climbs trees and rides his bicycle. While we have no access to a hearing loss specialist in our school system, there is a philosophy that a parent of a special needs child should be encouraged to participate in the day to day education of their child and be an active participant in the IEP process. This philosophy has enabled Tyler to work above grade level.
Last year in the second grade, Tyler’s reading tested at a sixth grade level. Amid much amazement, I was asked how a child with so little hearing and so much difficulty verbally expressing himself could read that well. I think the answer is two-fold. First, when Tyler was an infant I enrolled him in an outreach program through the School of the Deaf. One of the things I was encouraged to do was treat Tyler as I had my older hearing children. I sang to him and read him books. He did not hear a word of any of that but he learned to love the interaction and to love looking at the pictures in the books. The second reason for his amazing reading level is our constant use of closed captioning.
With encouragement from my school librarian, I became interested in the effects of closed captioning on not only children with hearing loss but all children. I’ve found some amazing information. Routine exposure to closed captioning helps every student and it is free! Closed captioning improves focus, it improves spelling, it improves number recognition, and it helps students develop notetaking skills. It does all these things as it is reaching children in a multi-sensory way. The child sees the pictures, sees the words, and if they have hearing they also hear the dialogue. Armed with studies, I made an appointment to see my school system’s superintendent. He loved the information and invited me to present it to my school board. As a result every TV in the school system has had the closed captioning turned on and the teachers educated on the value of leaving it on. To obtain information on closed captioning in the educational setting the National Captioning Institute may be contacted (www.ncicap.org) and a request made for their booklet Using Captioned Television in Reading and Literacy Instruction. Another useful resource on this subject is Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook. Chapter nine of this book draws attention to a study of Finnish children. In Finland, children do not start school until age seven but have the highest reading ability in the world. The reason why? Finnish televisions always have captioning on. As a bilingual country with many of its programs imported from America, captioning is essential. The Finnish children are exposed to written word and motivated to learn to read to understand every time they watch television. I encourage the reader to obtain these studies and take them to your school systems. Point out not only the value of closed captioning but that closed captioning is free and benefits all children. ~