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A+ Anecdotes

Letter to Dr. Kagan: My Daughter’s Story

Jeff McAlpine

Dr. Kagan,

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my daughter’s story at the Winter Academy in Las Vegas. You asked me to send you a letter telling you more about how the Kagan communication gambits have changed my family’s life. Here is our story‚Ķ

Many years ago, sleeping next to my beautiful, newly pregnant wife, I had a nightmare in which my daughter was born deaf. She could not hear the music that I loved. She could not hear and understand the life lessons I was attempting to teach her. I woke up in a state of panic. The dream was so vivid and so real. A few moments later I calmed down realizing that everything would be fine. The dream was most likely a result of watching Mr. Holland’s Opus one too many times. My daughter would come out with ten fingers and toes and a normal set of hearing ears.

When my daughter, Grace, was born seven months later, she had ten fingers and ten toes. However, she could not breathe, she was profoundly deaf, she could not swallow, and she lacked the ability to move. I knew when she was born that I would do anything for this tiny blue miracle as the doctors worked feverishly to save her life. Grace was born with a rare genetic disorder called CHARGE syndrome.

In a state of shock, my wife and I lived the first three years of her life in slow motion. I can vividly recall the thirteen times where we had to tell our daughter we loved her as the doctors took her back for her many surgeries. One at a time, through many doctors and daily therapies, our daughter learned to breathe, to swallow, to move, to stand, to walk, and, in her own unique special way, to run. I owe a lot of this journey to my wife who quickly learned to fiercely advocate for our daughter. She learned to never take “No” for an answer.

It was this fierce advocacy and a few second opinions that led us to a cochlear implant surgery when she was only fourteen months old. Although profoundly deaf, due to the miracle of modern medicine, our little girl could hear like most children! Her speech and language really took off. Her therapists were amazed at the progress she was making. With her hearing aids and cochlear implants, she could hear and speak like any other child her age.

However, there was one large difference. While Grace could communicate, she preferred not to. There’s a little-known side effect of hearing loss known as listening fatigue. It takes double the effort for Grace to hear what people are saying, and when she talks to others she knows that they will communicate back, leading to greater fatigue. My wife and I had a hard time coaxing Grace to talk about normal things: When we would ask how her day was, or how she was feeling, or what she was doing, she would respond with a shrug and visible frustration. Sometimes if she got extra frustrated, she would simply take off her hearing aid and cochlear signaling us that the conversation was over!

Last year I had the fortune to attend Kagan Cooperative Learning I. Tom Searl was an incredible trainer. For the first time, I was introduced to the idea of spoken gambits. Tom would have us turn to each other and we would say, “great job.” A few times we would turn to each other and “complete a sentence.” While I was familiar with written sentence stems, in ten years of teaching I had never experienced spoken gambits. This was a simple addition that just seemed to make communicating with each other so much easier. I ran to the book store and bought the Communication Boosters SmartCard and drove home eager to try out what I had just learned with Grace.

I am now a Kagan fanatic and hope to one day become a trainer. I want to help many children discover the ability to communicate that they have locked up inside of them just waiting for the key to open up verbally.

I think it was one of the first times I had had a full on, successful conversation with my daughter. It was night and day. She loved communicating in this way. There was a predictable pattern to our conversation, and she knew that I would help her with her responses. A year later and she is a communication machine. I am now a Kagan fanatic and hope to one day become a trainer. I want to help many children discover the ability to communicate that they have locked up inside of them just waiting for the key to open up verbally. If it can work with Grace, it can work with any child.

I once had a nightmare where I glimpsed my own future. However, I didn’t realize that, at the time, I was mistaken. It wasn’t a nightmare; It was a beautiful dream. You see, I get to live a unique life in which my own daughter is my hero. She has been through so much and she still approaches all of life’s hurdles with a smile and the knowledge that she can tackle any obstacle, achieve anything. She has given my wife and me so many gifts. She has given us a true purpose in life. As parents of a child with many special needs what we gave back to her were the tools she needed to grow. When she couldn’t breathe, we provided the doctors to help her. When she couldn’t swallow, we fed her through a tube. When she couldn’t walk, we provided her with the equipment to help her find her steps. When she couldn’t hear, we aided her in her hearing. When she had a hard time communicating, we offered her Kagan communication gambits that provided her with many beautiful words.

Thank you so much for being an integral part of my family’s life and for helping my daughter, Grace, on her journey. You have truly changed our lives!

Jeff McAlpine