Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Heather Whitestone--From her Mom's View

When Heather Whitestone became Miss America back in 1995, I watched the pageant with great interest. This was the first time in history that a profoundly deaf contestant had become Miss America. A video clip of that moment can be viewed here: Video of Heather Whitestone.

I read Heather's book, Listening With My Heart shortly after it was released. Two weeks ago, my library had the book, Yes, You Can, Heather! on a display shelf. Written by Daphne Gray, Heather's mother, she tells the story of raising a deaf child during a time when Auditory Verbal methods were not commonly known.

Daphne shares the long hours that were spent on language and speech: "...I had to devote all my time after supper to working with Heather on her speech therapy as well as her schoolwork--and now the Beka material on top of it all. Some nights we'd finish so late that I'd send Heather on to bed at 10 or 10:30 knowing I'd have to wake her up before five the next morning so we could go over the words for her spelling test."

Daphne had an amazing amount of dedication to her daughter--and it helped that Heather had an amazing amount of drive to match.

I found myself relating to Heather in a situation where Daphne tried to encourage Heather to be upfront and open about being deaf: "Like most teenagers, she wanted to belong and not stand out from the crowd. Usually she wore her hair in a style that covered her hearing aids. As a result, many of her high school classmates never realized Heather was deaf."

Yup, been there, done that. Did it so well that many students didn't even know that I wore a hearing aid until a news article appeared in the high school newspaper featuring me and my friend Shawn, who was also hard of hearing. It took me nearly a year after I became deaf before I could wear my hair up in a ponytail with my hearing aid perched on my ear. Comfortably. In public.

Daphne also touched on social bluffing and how difficult it was for Heather to participate in conversations. "Lunchtime was especially miserable for Heather," Daphne wrote. "She found it nearly impossible to pick voices out of the constant roar of cafeteria commotion in her ear. That meant she had to rely almost totally on lipreading around the lunch table. 'I get tired of asking my friends to repeat what I don't hear,' she admitted. 'And I think somtimes they get tired of me asking. So I just laugh when the people around me laugh. That makes me sad. I want to be part of the conversation. But I'm not.'"

That particular section of the book made me sad as well. I think it is so easy for us parents and professionals to get caught up in the accomplishments of deaf and hard of hearing people and forget that on a deeper level, if communication access isn't accommodated for, then deaf and hard of hearing people still get left out of conversations and social situations. From what I see in my own district, there's still a lot of social isolation going on and we're not addressing the social/emotional issues of mainstreamed students.

As for Heather, she has gone on to open her own company and line of beauty products. She's married and has three little ones of her own. She's a spokeswoman for the Starkey Foundation and Cochlear Americas and has bilateral cochlear implants.


baby~amore' said...

what a great story.I still find it very hard to hear in many social situations , especially where several conversations are going on at once.
I too feel social isolation in mnay situations and feel the 'fool' when I mishear something.

Lantana said...

I wonder if Heather is really, truly enjoying her life? Motherhood does not meet all needs. And being married, well we all know what that entails. I wish she would write a book telling the true facts and how she REALLY feels. Does she have "D"eaf friends who use ASL?? Does he have fuN?? I mean, the ASL-type of fun! Can she laugh at herself?

Lots of questions there unanswered.


Nita said...

Karen, you mentioned in your article that Heather has three kids but in hew website, she says she has two boys. Did she recently have a third one??

kw said...

Thanks for sharing about this book--Reading your eval and then Lantana's comment struck me. That's the problem, isn't it? I mean, she doesn't truly fit in anywhere because she doesn't use ASL. She's like me. But what's sad is her mom spent so much time teaching her to be oral she didn't have time to learn ASL. In my case, I'm late-deafened, so the oralism came naturally. In her case, it seems like ASL would have been an easy answer. But then, would she have become the success she is today?? I wonder the same thing as Lantana.

Those "left out" feelings are so familiar. No matter how well you can speak, if you can't hear well you're' always left out.

Tiff said...

I'll have to get that book. My son was born deaf due to a cleft palate. Once that was repaired and he had surgery on his ears his hearning began to get better. He's three now and is just starting to talk. But not well. on top of hearing issues he is autistic so he gets frustrated very easily. It breaks my heart that he struggles just as much as his sister (she has auditory processin disorder - not the same - I know). But seeing them both struggle with with life is heart breaking sometimes. I hate to see them like that!

Paotie said...

Lantana ..

What would Heather have to REALLY tell about how she REALLY feels? What gives you the idea she might be hiding something?

Why does it matter if she has Deaf friends or not? Are we now in the business of telling people who they should or shouldn't socialize with?



Karen said...

From the Miss America website, the update says that she was expecting a third child in 2007.

T said...

It's a shame that more people aren't pushing for total communication, i.e. teach the child both speech and sign, and let them use whichever is appropriate / more helpful in each situation. It wasn't even considered that I would learn sign language and I only started learning it 4 years ago, it has made a wonderful difference to my social life and enjoyment of life. Luckily I don't rely on it or I wouldn't be where I am today.

Ancilla said...

just drop by from blogwalking. it is nice to found this blog.

communication with the heart is really important. and to be honest, i just knew about Heather Whitestone.
for me, it shows that nothing is really impossible.

anyway, happy new year :)

Nita said...

Unfortunately, my library doesn't have any of Heather's books :( The only option is to buy them. I am not sure if I want to collect books. I merely prefer to just borrow them.

baby~amore' said...

thanks for visiting my blog .NF1 and NF2 are quite different but have similar features. I am sorry to hear about your neighbours child with NF2. My hearing loss is not related to NF1 - as far as I am aware anyway - I have had chronic ear infections since a child.
I read your my story page - wow that in incredible how your siblings lost their hearing ...and your own children. I don't know if sorry is the right word , but I just wanted to say despite your hearing loss you have triumphed and I find your blog very interesting.
We are all (with hearing loss) just different not to be pitied but I guess 'heard' and understood as much as anyone else.
MY hearing loss has been very gradual - I can hear well enough to function but not without my hearing aid (right ear)now. My left ear is almost totally deaf. So I don't wear an aid - it's useless.
I am interested in the book too doubt our library would have it but I will ask.
I find it most embarrassing when people assume you have heard and look at you weirdly when you ask them to repeat it...again and again a few times over. So frustrating and especially as I wear my hair up so my aid is very visible.

KNE#73 said...

I am doing a report on heather whitestone.and she is one of my favoirte alabameins.

KNE#73 said...

heather is nice