Mother, deaf daughter advocate for turning hearing disability into ability

Feb 2018 Record-Courier

Stacey Lim’s parents were beaming at the opening of her exhibit titled (dis)Abled Beauty. Thirty years ago, they thought she would never hear or speak. Stacey, who was born with profound hearing loss, is now a professor of audiology at Central Michigan University and an author of several books on newborn hearing screenings and auditory-verbal therapy. Her mother, Betty, traces her success back to when they met Dr. Carol Flexer at Kent State University when Stacey was a newborn baby. Every doctor said Stacey would never hear or speak, except for Flexer, Betty recalled. Flexer, who was a doctoral student at the time, taught them about auditory-verbal communication, a method for teaching deaf children to listen and speak using their residual hearing.

Stacey Lim (left) and Carol Flexer

Stacey LimCarol Flexar“I was worried about her future, what is she going to do,” said Betty, who lives in Stow with her husband Charlie. “At the time, I would be happy if she could just speak a few words, but then I saw the potential for her and knew there’s no limit for her.” Stacey was one of the first children in the area to go to Flexer’s auditory-verbal clinic that she founded at University of Akron. Flexer explained the ears “are the doorway to the brain, but knowing of hearing occurs in the brain and we enrich the brain with practice. At the time, and even now, many people have very low expectations. That you’re not going to talk or you’re not going to talk very well, but that’s not so if you do what it takes.” 

Since she was a newborn, Betty made Stacey wear hearing aids every day and constantly engaged her in meaningful conversation, until one day she caught on. “I would have to keep telling her, ‘Stacey, I hear the door bell ringing. I hear the telephone ringing,’” Betty said. “One time the door bell rang and Stacey turned around and said, ‘I hear that.’ Then it started, the hearing.” Even with new technology, like cochlear implants, that helps deaf children hear again, auditory-verbal communication is essential for all children. “Our son has normal hearing, but he spoke so early because of the auditory-verbal communication,” Betty said.

Flexer, a distinguished audiologist, will give seminars and workshops all over the world this year, from Sacramento and Denver to England and Israel, to raise awareness that “children with hearing loss can hear and speak.” Starting at an early age is key, she said. Without Flexer, Betty said their lives wouldn’t be the same. With a doctor and parents who “didn’t give up” on her, Stacey now sees disability as ability. Her exhibition, which appeared at Kent State University last year, features devices, like hearing aids and prostheses, and encourages people with disabilities not to conceal them, but rather show them off. Her areas of expertise include educational audiology, cochlear implants and aural rehabilitation. “Stacey is amazing and we never doubted it, but we didn’t know she would do all this,” Flexer said. “She’s a rising star in our whole field of audiology.” “She is hoping that one day she will be a Carol Flexer,” Betty added.

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