Lydia Denworth is the author of I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language. She is a blogger for Psychology Today and contributes to Scientific American Mind, Parents, and many other publications.
When I found out my son couldn’t hear, I figured out that I wasn’t really listening, either
Just before my youngest son Alex turned two, we discovered that he had significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. A few weeks later, I found myself in the gym at the school my two older boys attended. I was there for the regular Friday morning assembly. I’d been in that gym dozens of times for such events-dutifully clapping and cheering, chatting with other parents, and then moving on with my day.
On this morning, my routine was upended. The noise of the kids filing in echoed through the bleachers; the PA system squealed once or twice. When quiet kids took the microphone it was hard to hear them. All of that was normal, yet I hadn’t really noticed it before. Now, I was hearing the world differently, imagining it through the ears-and the hearing aids-of Alex, who might someday be a student here. Having a deaf child, I realized, was going to teach me to listen.
Once I started listening, I started to learn. Research came naturally-I am a journalist-and became my coping mechanism. Through books, conferences, and conversations with as many experts as possible, I began to understand the power of sound-how the speech of parents and caregivers and teachers shapes a child’s spoken language; and then, how a child’s own spoken language-the rhythm and the rate of it-helps that child learn to read. I also saw and heard more clearly the troublesome effects of sound’s alter ego, noise-the unwanted, unlovely cacophony of our industrial world, or the magnified, amplified effect of too many people talking, or music that’s too loud or intrusive.