Aimee Smith (Charlie’s Mother)
Mark Twain once said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” After watching the professionals at Boys Town National Research Hospital work with our 4-year-old son, Charlie, since he was a baby, we know that they speak that language.
On July 3, 2007, Charlie Smith was born without a heartbeat. Luckily, Charlie was revived by his doctors and nurses shortly after coming into this world. The time that he was without oxygen, however, caused him to lose some of his hearing and muscle tone. Shortly after birth, Charlie was officially diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss as well as hypotonia, or low muscle tone.
At the age of 4 months, Charlie began seeing a speech pathologist, Shelly, from Boys Town National Research Hospital every week. She showed us ways to communicate with Charlie, strengthen the muscles in his mouth, and build his language.
Charlie’s diagnoses have made it difficult for him to communicate. Even with hearing aids, he struggles to hear certain sounds, such as “f” and “sh.” When he does hear sounds, the low muscle tone around his mouth makes it hard for him to form the words that he hears. The low muscle tone in his fingers also makes it hard for him to use sign language. He recognizes several signs, but cannot move his fingers to form the right sign.
Shortly after turning 3, Charlie joined the preschool program at the Boys Town Lied Learning and Technology Center. He has two classroom teachers, an audiologist, a speech pathologist, and an art teacher. This team, led by a preschool director and other talented professionals, are known to the Smith family as “Charlie’s Angels.”
Together, they have used their expertise to assess Charlie’s communication abilities, identify solutions to his communication struggles, and educate us on those solutions. They spoke the language of kindness to Charlie when he became frustrated at trying to express what he wanted in the classroom by gently showing him pictures to use to identify what he wanted. And later extended that kindness to me when we cried upon learning about Charlie’s frustrations and thinking about how difficult it must be for him.
Now, Charlie uses a variety of ways to communicate. He uses some words, some signs, and an electronic device called Dynavox, equipped with a program that contains pictures and words from which he can choose to communicate with others.
Charlie has learned these ways to communicate from his angels at Boys Town National Research Hospital. They have guided him, as angels do, and have taught him how to speak the language of kindness that we know he can hear.