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I CAN HEAR YOU WHISPER by Lydia Denworth


An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language

by Lydia Denworth

Pub Date: April 17th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-525-95379-1
Publisher: Dutton

A science journalist and mother of a child born with a congenital deformity of the inner ear brings both perspectives to bear on this account of her journey into the science of hearing and the world of the deaf.

Former Newsweek and People journalist Denworth’s (Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle over Lead, 2009) third son, Alex, was given a cochlear implant shortly before turning 3. That procedure, along with a hearing aid in his other ear, has enabled him to live and function well in the world of the hearing. The author based the decision on a clear understanding of what the consequences of not doing so would mean for Alex. Denworth employs her skills as a researcher to tell the story of early attempts to help the deaf. She visited the laboratories of neuroscientists studying the brain to understand how it processes sound, interviewed doctors, consulted surgeons and listened to educators at Gallaudet University, where communication occurs primarily through American Sign Language. Occasionally, the details get overly technical, but for the most part, Denworth understands how to keep readers engaged; for clarity, she includes a couple of line drawings of the ear, an implant and the brain. The Deaf community, choosing to regard deafness as a “difference” rather than a “disability,” has at times voiced fierce opposition to the use of cochlear implants, especially in young children, arguing that it removes children from the world of Deaf culture while not granting them full entry into the world of the hearing. The language of opponents has sometimes been harsh, with words like “genocide” occasionally used, but Denworth pulls back from the controversy. She learned to sign, acknowledging its value, but there is no doubt that she believes she has made the right choice in bringing her child into the wider world of spoken language.

All parents will recognize the moments of both terror and pride that mark the journey; parents of deaf children will garner both information and insights.