Thank You, AG Bell

By Wendy Kupfer

In January of 1977, our beautiful daughter Ali was born prematurely at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.  Ten months later, our baby was diagnosed with a "severe to profound" hearing loss and the doctors predicted that she would "never" speak. Needless to say, that was devastating news!

Finding a solution back then was very challenging. The doctors at this very prestigious hospital recommended their total communication classes for Ali, and sign language classes for us. We were optimistic, but totally clueless. We knew absolutely nothing about hearing loss and there weren't resources available for parents, like there are today.  (Remember, this was the pre-computer age.)Wendy and Ali

The only thing we knew to do was to follow our doctor's advice. Fortunately, the hospital audiologist gave us a list of 6 organizations to contact.  I wrote to each one, explaining that our baby had a profound hearing loss, that we had chosen a total communication approach and any information they could provide would be greatly appreciated.  

Luckily for us, one of those organizations was the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf. (I think they were the only ones to even reply.). Our lives, and our daughter's life for sure, we're forever impacted by that reply letter from AG Bell.

I will never forget the letter - they wrote back quickly and said while "they respected our decision to choose a total communication approach", there was a family nearby with a daughter a few years older than Ali, that they suggested we meet. AG Bell also suggested that we visit the Helen Beebe Center in Easton, Pa - about 90 minutes away from our home.

That advice was life-altering advice and we remain forever grateful.  That little girl that doctors at a very prominent hospital said would never speak, is today a remarkable and accomplished young woman, and often known as a "chatter-box".  

We were very impressed with the child that we met, who was following the Beebe approach. And what we witnessed at the Beebe Center was extraordinary - everyone was working hard, but so many of the children were developing excellent speech and language skills.

We travelled to Easton twice a week to work with the therapists at Beebe and supplemented our approach with an itinerant teacher from the Bucks County Intermediary Unit. Ali was mainstreamed all through school, performed and competed with her friends in ballet, jazz and tap, spent wonderful summers at sleep-away camp, had her Bat-Mitzvah at the age of thirteen, and did a pretty good job of keeping up with her hearing friends.

In high school, Ali elected to take sign language as her foreign language requirement for college. She then made the decision to attend Gallaudet University and stayed at Gallaudet through graduate school. In her late twenties, Ali had her weaker ear implanted with a cochlear implant by Dr.Thomas Balkany at the University of Miami  Ali has a masters degree in social work, works in job development at The Jewish Social Services Agency in Rockville, Md. and has the unique ability to enjoy both the hearing and deaf worlds. Additionally, she works with clients that are both deaf and hearing. Ali was married last May and has a wonderful, devoted husband.

I wish I could have met a young woman like Ali, back when Ali was first diagnosed with hearing loss. Ali is a wonderful role model for children with hearing challenges and serves as a reminder to their parents of all that can be accomplished.

I respect parents for the tough decisions that have to be made regarding which approach is best for their deaf child...and we all try to do the best we can. For our daughter Ali, AG Bell's advice was invaluable!

Thank you AG Bell for caring enough to answer a letter 35 years ago from a mother who was completely overwhelmed and worried, and for pointing us in the right direction for Ali. We are truly forever grateful!