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A Girl and Her Dog: A Tale of Learning and Listening
Paticoff, 20, attends Fontbonne full-time as a deaf education major. Passionate and focused, she exudes enthusiasm — for her field of study, her family, her dog and her life. Her book, titled “Learning to Listen,” is just the first of many planned in a series called “Sophie’s Tales” about a pup, much like Sophie, who receives a cochlear implant. The real Sophie is actually a therapy dog who can join Paticoff on book readings in schools.
Paticoff fiercely believes that children with hearing loss can and should have opportunities equal to those of their hearing counterparts, as well as role models who affirm their differences.
“Children with hearing loss can learn to listen, speak and lead amazing, fulfilling lives,” she said. “People who have a cochlear implant will look different, but the more we raise awareness, the more people can ask questions instead of making fun.
Paticoff’s passion is personal. Her 14-year-old cousin Julie is profoundly deaf and has bilateral cochlear implants. From a young age, Paticoff witnessed Julie’s struggles, as well as those of Julie’s mom, who also has hearing loss.
“When Julie was diagnosed, my aunt did a lot of research,” Paticoff remembered. “All of it pointed to St. Louis and to this area. My aunt moved out to St. Louis for three years, until Julie graduated from the Moog Center for Deaf Education. I would come out to visit and was allowed to come to her school. I just thought it was so phenomenal.”
Paticoff credits Moog’s educational program and the teachers who worked with Julie for helping her family to maintain their close relationship in spite of hearing loss.
“We wouldn’t have the same relationship,” she said. “I’m so thankful for that. I want to do that for other families.”
And with that goal in mind, in 2008, Paticoff left her hometown of Long Island, N.Y., her tight-knit extended family, and the familiarity of home to come to the Midwest to study deaf education. She began her first semester at another college, but never quite felt like it offered the program and the community she sought. When she reached out to Fontbonne’s department of communication disorders and deaf education, looking for a better fit, she knew she had found it.
“Our program has been preparing teachers for fifty years, and we have graduates in nearly all states and several countries,” said Susan Lenihan, a Fontbonne professor and the director of the school’s deaf education program. “The field of deaf education has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, but Fontbonne has consistently prepared professionals to meet the needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing using the latest technology.” The department welcomed Paticoff, eager to help her channel her passion into professionalism.
“Mel is an enthusiastic and creative person with a passion for increasing awareness about opportunities for children with hearing loss to develop listening and spoken language,” Lenihan said. “She loves using media to spread the word about cochlear implants and how this technology can provide access to sound for children who are deaf.”
Paticoff has indeed done so much more than simply study deaf education — she has become an active advocate for individuals with hearing loss. In 2009, during the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s annual Better Speech and Hearing Month, she submitted a video for the group’s inaugural video contest — and won first place.
Her music video, “That’s Just the Way We Hear,” parodies a Jonas Brothers song called “That’s Just the Way We Roll.” Created with the help of her cousins and friends over their 2009 spring break, the video follows Paticoff’s cousin Julie throughout an average day, reinforcing the idea that individuals with cochlear implants can live like anyone else. When Paticoff’s video won the contest, she felt her message and efforts were validated. In 2010, she spearheaded a remake of the video to enter the Battle of the Bands sponsored by DoSomething.org and VH1 Save the Music Foundation. Although her video didn’t win, it helped reinforce the contest’s bigger picture — the importance of a complete music education.
“We tried to make it bigger, better and all ours,” Paticoff said of her latest video. “Our point about music education is that it’s important for everyone, but with hearing loss, it’s so much more important. Some of these kids with hearing loss go to school and aren’t introduced to music. These music programs have to be inclusive of all kids.”
Which brings us back to “Sophie’s Tales,” yet another way Paticoff hopes to raise awareness about hearing loss and increase inclusivity for children who have it. In the first book, Sophie has cochlear implant surgery. In the books to follow, yet unwritten, Paticoff plans for Sophie to adjust to her cochlear implant and learn to process sound and speech.
“Kids today know so much about technology, but why don’t they know about the technology that helps their friend hear?” she asked. She hopes her books and website will help change this, and she plans to spend the rest of her life advocating for children with hearing loss. She’ll attend graduate school — at Fontbonne she hopes — add to the Sophie series every year, and when she completes her degrees, become a teacher. In the long term, she could see herself opening a school for the deaf, possibly on Long Island.
But for the time being, she intends to stay in St. Louis, a place she considers to be a center for knowledge and advancement in the study and practice of deaf education.
“I feel like I came into my own here,” she said. “This is home.” And Sophie, smiling happily in Paticoff’s arms, seemed to agree.
Visit Sophie, support her mission or purchase a book at www.sophiestales.com.
Learn more about the department of communication disorders and deaf education.