Feb 2020 Orange County Register

Harper GideonsHarper Gideons, 13, and her mom Valli just published “Now Hear This: Harper Soars with her Magic Ears!” about hearing impairment. She strikes a pose similar to the book’s cover

Valli Gideons was picking up her daughter Harper’s spilled backpack when she came across a journal the then-10-year-old had written for school. In an entry that asked her to describe what made her unique, she had written: “My name is Harper and I’m deaf. My mom and dad had this weird gene thing that caused a part of the inside of my ear to be enlarged — by the size of a hair,” Harper wrote for her assignment at Marblehead Elementary in San Clemente. “The size of a hair isn’t much, you might think. But when it comes to that part of the ear, believe me, it matters. That little difference means I have a hearing loss.”

Valli Gideons had been blogging to help others affected by hearing loss find resources. When she read Harper’s entry, she recognised that telling her daughter’s story of navigating hearing impairment would be even more impactful. “It was totally one of those ‘aha moments,’ Gideons said. “I realised it’s not my story, this is the story.”  Nearly three years after Gideons stumbled upon Harper’s journal, their book, “Now Hear This: Harper Soars with her Magic Ears” went online on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

  • BookThe book, told in Harper’s voice, chronicles her journey with hearing impairment. At birth, doctors diagnosed Harper with moderate hearing loss. At three months, she was given hearing aids and at 18 months, she had a cochlear implant placed in her right ear. Now, she hears with the aid of the implant and a hearing aid in her left ear. Likely, she will need a cochlear implant in her left ear also.

Harper’s hearing loss is a result of Pendred syndrome, a genetic condition in which hearing deteriorates and fluctuates. Valli and her husband, Chris, a Marine colonel in his fourth tour at Camp Pendleton, had experience with the condition.

Harper’s older brother, Battle, 15, also has Pendred syndrome and has two cochlear implants.

In the first part of the book, Harper writes about using hearing aids as a toddler — and she describes perpetually yanking them out of her ears: “My mom and dad put them right back in and sang a ‘magic ear’ song: ‘Magic ears, magic ears … listening is so much fun with magic ears!”

She goes on to explain her surgery for the cochlear implant and what it was like to hear with the device for the first time. “The first time my new implant was turned on, my eyes got wide as saucers,” Harper writes. “Before, the world sounded a little bit muted, but after the implant was turned on, everything sounded so clear and awesome.”

Harper, now 13, describes herself as a competitive teen who loves to play basketball, skateboard and snow ski. Her challenges haven’t stopped her, she said, but she struggles in group conversations and over the phone. When she plays basketball, loud noises such as whistles and sneakers skidding on the court make it hard for her to hear her coaches, so she relies on her teammates to help her out. “I wish this was available when my kids were born,” Gideons said of the book. “For others to see themselves in a character that looks like them is huge. Inclusion is important. Kids need to see themselves represented.”

Harper was skeptical when her mom came up with the idea for “Now Hear This.”  “At first I thought it was dumb,” she said. “I thought, ‘Yeah, we can write it but nobody is going to buy it.’” Then, when her mom found Priscila Soares — who also has hearing loss — to illustrate the book, Harper began to see it coming together. Now, she said, she’s proud of it and hopes it can help stop others from stereotyping people with differences or special needs.

When she wrote her journal entry back in the fourth grade, Harper said, she did it not so much to explain her own disability, but as a way to help others. “Some of the kids in the class were insensitive if someone had a learning disability or was a different race,” she said. “People didn’t take my hearing as being that different. I was well-liked but I wanted them to realise that other people who have something that makes them different should be treated with respect.” She said she hopes the book will help others who struggle with hearing loss stop feeling like they have to “fake it” to fit in. Harper and her mother plan to spread that message when they take the book to south Orange County schools in March.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know how to express that and I just played along,” Harper explained. “I felt left out. People would be laughing about something and I would be like ‘hahaha’ but not really know what it was about. I was afraid to ask someone what they were laughing about.” Now, Harper said, she speaks up if she doesn’t hear something or asks people not to cover their mouths so she can lip-read. She also sits near the front of the classroom and her teacher wears a special microphone that sends sound right into her ear. “Hearing loss is an invisible disability,” Valli Gideons added. “It’s so wonderful to hear her say she’s advocating for herself and not trying to fake it.”

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