keyboard with hand

SWC Online Voices

September 2009

Interview With Jodi Cutler Del Torre

by Kim Ward

Jodi Cutler del Torre is an American mom living in Italy with her husband and two bilingual children. Jordan, 13, was born in an American hospital. When he was only a few months old the del Torres moved to Italy where his hearing loss was discovered at a routine pediatric check-up. He was immediately fitted with hearing aids. To facilitate language learning, Italian doctors advised Jodi not to speak English at home, as it was perceived he would have a difficult enough time learning just one language—Italian. Jodi was still learning Italian at the time, but followed their advice in the hopes her child would learn to speak. Eventually Jordan was given a cochlear implant and now speaks both Italian and English clearly. Jodi is currently involved in international support and advocacy for newborn hearing screenings. Recently she published a fictional book for children called Rally Caps, about a boy who plays baseball and wears a Cochlear Implant. She also maintains a blog about family life in Italy called “An American Mom in Tuscany: Jordan’s Cochlear Implant Story.” To read more about the del Torres, go to www.rallycapsdotnet.blogspot.com.

Kim: Tell me about yourself.

Jodi: I am the hearing mom of a 12 year old son (Jordan) with a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. We learned he was deaf, despite the fact that he was born in Baltimore, when he was 10 months old after a pediatric check-up. He currently wears a cochlear implant in his left ear and a hearing aid in his right ear.

Kim: What was your initial reaction upon learning Jordan was deaf?

Jodi: My initial reaction was “I need to know everything possible about deafness. Where can I find books, literature, articles, anything? Will my son be able to speak? How can I teach him to sign? Is ASL the same as Italian Sign Language (LIS)? Can I still speak English to him? How am I possibly going to learn Italian fast enough? What can I do to help my child?”

Kim: What kind of emotional support, advice and information did you receive upon learning about his deafness?

Jodi: I received absolutely no emotional support. Jordan was immediately given hearing aids and we were sent to the speech therapist — couldn’t understand a word she said, it was all in Italian. I found the John Tracy Clinic, I believe online and thankfully, they began sending me video cassettes. Six months after his diagnosis, I returned to Baltimore and spent eight hours in the book store where I found the book Choices in Deafness. I repeat, I had no emotional support and the advice received from family members about having to sign despite our chosen path was draining.

Kim: Did you research various options for Jordan on the Internet, at the library or by asking questions from organizations that support parents of deaf children? (Did you research the option of implantation, ASL or both?)

Jodi: Jordan was diagnosed 12 years ago. I found nothing on line, no articles, nothing. There were no organizations here; I only had the support of my speech therapist. I went to a meeting of a deaf community chapter, and they were very nice, but the idea of adding LIS on top of Italian when I was prohibited from speaking English was too overwhelming.

Kim: Which organizations helped you the most? What did they do to encourage you as an effective parent?

Jodi: I communicated sporadically from a mentor of the John Tracy Clinic. The video tapes and emails assisted me during Jordan’s temper tantrum period. The child psychologist, who was part of our “team” aided me as well during that period and taught me the importance of providing structure.

Kim: How did you first learn of the cochlear implant?

Jodi: I learned of the cochlear implant by chance when I ran into a surgeon at the beach during a trip to Ocean City, Md. Jordan was 4 at the time and according to this surgeon, was not a candidate because he received enough gain from his hearing aids so as not to be considered a candidate.

Kim: Was the implant presented to you as a "cure" for deafness or simply a more powerful hearing instrument?

Jodi: I did the research and considered the implant to be a step up from hearing aids able to provide my son with that amount of extra hearing of a different quality that he was missing to have incidental language.

Kim: Do you consider the implant a success?

Jodi: The implant is an extreme success and has changed Jordan’s life...and ours.

Kim: Did you feel you had realistic expectations of the effectiveness of the implant and has it performed as well as you expected, or better?

Jodi: I just wanted the implant to work as well as his hearing aid, because we were taking a risk considering he did have benefits from his aids. The implant is another world better. To explain just how well he “hears” I need only to think of how much he relied on speech reading with his aids. With his CI, his speech reading skills have declined as he no longer needs to watch mouths to hear effectively. I can speak to him from upstairs and he hears me. The other day we were eating at the dinner table and the window was open. Jordan says, “Oh my Gosh, listen to those cats fighting.” In fact, I could hear the cats meowing outside from a distance. The things he is able to hear with the cochlear implant never cease to amaze me.

Kim: How was Jordan’s adjustment to it?

Jodi: The first mapping was a traumatic nightmare. The sound was turned on too loudly and it scared him so much that I literally had to resort to physically restraining him to get him to wear it at the second mapping. He was terrified, it was totally psychological. Once he realized that the sound was turned down, he started smiling, embarrassed by his reaction that was totally understandable. I will never forget that day that he immediately began recognizing sounds heard before with his hearing aids. He had to re-learn to hear and banged on glasses at the restaurant, flushed the toilet five times, heard the birds, the cars, the motorcycles — an adventure in hearing. From that second mapping he flew. After five days he responded to his name, and after one month he was following two sentences strung together. He really moved fast and neither his speech therapist nor the audiologists had ever seen any other recipient move so quickly.

Kim: Has Jordan ever expressed a desire to learn ASL or meet other Deaf people?

Jodi: I have asked Jordan if he would like to learn LIS, he has always said no. He likes being around other Deaf people, signing or speaking, but the majority of deaf people he comes into contact with speak.

Kim: Why didn’t you pursue sign language as an option for your family?

Jodi: The idea of learning sign and Italian together was impossible for me at that time. We had speech therapy four times a week and I was totally concentrated on teaching him to speak. A program for parents would have been very helpful...something structured where I could have just gone and learned information, sign, anything relevant to Jordan’s needs.

Kim: Has Jordan ever expressed a desire to hear better?

Jodi: He has expressed that he hears much better with his cochlear implant than with his hearing aids, so I think that in his mind, had he wished he could hear better...his wish was granted.

Kim: How much exposure does he get to the Deaf community?

Jodi: He does not get any exposure to the “Deaf community.”

Kim: How big is the deaf or Deaf community in your area?

Jodi: Very, very small.

Kim: Has the Deaf community reached out to you in any way? Did you ever try to reach out to them?

Jodi: I have had visits from members of the Deaf community who ring my doorbell to ask about Jordan. I don’t know how they got my information, and I find the approach invasive, but the people so nice that I manage to get over my irritation. In fact, we have become friendly with the gentleman who began visits in this manner and he has an amazing son Jordan’s age. When we published RALLY CAPS in Italy, I made a point of finding this gentleman to request the presence of the president of the local chapter at the book presentation. It was a beautiful experience that resulted in a dialogue regarding the cochlear implant at the presentation, where the groups argued, yet listened to each others’ opinions on the matter.

Kim: How has your extended family accommodated Jordan? Would they learn sign language in order to communicate with him?

Jodi: My extended Italian family have always been present and have assisted in teaching Jordan to speak. Because Jordan speaks Italian, my American family had great difficulty in communicating with him, but they did not go out of their way to learn Italian. This frustrated me, can’t tell you how much. The cochlear implant enabled Jordan to hear so well that he began learning English spontaneously and now is able to communicate with my side of the family. (Fortunately)

Kim: How well does Jordan communicate in Italian? What do you attribute his success in communication to?

Jodi: My son communicates extremely well in spoken Italian, very well in written Italian and fairly well in spoken English. I attribute his success to the cochlear implant and a combined effort on behalf of medical professionals, the school system and family members. He has always worked hard and played hard. This combination has enabled him to succeed in his endeavours while remaining a child.

NEXT

BACK to Table of Contents