Before I met Tino Udall, the deaf child who is the subject of this week's feature story, his mom told me that you'd never know her son was deaf by talking to him. That seemed an incredible promise, given the muffled and distorted speech often associated with the deaf. If it was true, it suggested that the technology he availed himself of, cochlear implants, had really ushered in a new era for the deaf, one with potentially radical implications for how such children should be educated.
As the story relates, there are skeptics who think many children with cochlear implants can't really understand spoken language and therefore should not be denied access to sign language, in school or anywhere else. But throughout several encounters I had with Tino, he indeed seemed to hear and speak just about like most 4-year-olds do.
Here's a clip from the first day we met at Tino's home in West Seattle. His mom had taken one of his two cochlear implants off to show me, which meant he didn't hear quite as well as usual. Even so, he answers questions fired at him from two directions, as his mom and I ask questions about his playing.
Tino's parents feel that his capacity for spoken language is best served by an exclusively oral approach in the classroom. They have demanded just that from the Seattle Public Schools, which is by law required to offer deaf children a preschool education. But their demands turned into an ugly fight, one that taps into a fierce, centuries' long debate over just what is the right way to educate deaf children.