If you’re seeking to unravel the mystery that is lipreading, read on…
As I’ve mentioned on my home list of Connect, I’m reading Gerald Shea’s “Songs Without Words: Discovering My Deafness Halfway through Life”, a story about a “partially deaf” (his description, and a very good one) man who lost his hearing due to a cocktail of chicken pox and scarlet fever, at age six.
I received the book from my son, who works at the Spirit of ‘76 Bookstore, in Marblehead. They provided copies of the book for purchase and signing for an event held this past June 26th, at the Abbot Public Library. My son knew I would be interested in this story, since it follows my own experience with hearing loss and lipreading so closely.
At age six, after recovering from his illness, Gerald Shea (Gerry) didn’t realize he had lost his hearing. He became accustomed to thinking speech was a puzzle to be solved by everyone. Surprisingly, no one else picked up on his hearing loss — though there were those who knew something wasn’t quite right — and he somehow avoided a hearing test until he was in his mid 30s.
I can really relate to this, as speech was a puzzle for me when I was young, and still is. From my very early memories, I knew instinctively I needed to see speech in order to understand it, but the reason why didn’t occur to me until I flunked the public school hearing screening in the late 1960s. In one of my very first blogs for SWC, “I Need to See You Speak” I wrote about the need to see speech and told about my experience of needing to watch my Sunday School teacher pray, defying her instructions of “Every head bowed, every eye closed.”
In this review, I’ll share some things from the book that explain in detail how the author lipreads (his aptly-named lyricals)… things that help demystify the naturally acquired ability to read lips when auditory stimulation goes missing at a young age.
I’m only a few chapters in, but already I feel a kinship with Gerald Shea. We share a way (albeit an imperfect one) of understanding in a confusing world. We share a language, a way to communicate that is different, not only in the realm of what’s “normal” for everyone, but also within the hearing loss (partially deaf) community. Gerry and I are part of a group of kids who lost their hearing early, but didn’t have anyone but ourselves to rely on for a fix. We unknowingly left it to our brain to figure out how to exist in the hearing world, which gave us some uniquely adept skills that people who lose their hearing later in life might not have. Beyond that, we both learned things we never would have learned had there been some kind of intervention at the time we lost our hearing.