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Images of Children With Communication Disorders in Modern Childrens Fiction


The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. A baby with a cleft lip is born in ... antique tractor exhibit, golf and softball tournaments, capped off by ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Images of Children With Communication Disorders in Modern Childrens Fiction

Images of Children With Communication Disorders
in Modern Childrens Fiction
  • Monica Gordon Pershey, Ed.D., CCC-SLP
  • Associate Professor
  • Director, Speech and Hearing Program
  • Department of Health Sciences
  • Cleveland State University
  • Cleveland, OH
  • 216-687-4534
  • Presented at the
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
  • Annual Convention
  • Chicago, November 20, 2008

How This Study Began
  • The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
  • A baby with a cleft lip is born in approximately
  • the early Renaissance era to an unmarried
  • servant girl and her mistress's spoiled ward.
  • The deformed baby is seen as proof of the
  • wickedness of their affair and the terrified
  • servant girl abandons her baby to die.
  • This distraught mother is then executed for
  • murder but the baby's father is not implicated,
  • although his life is in turmoil from then on.

How This Study Began
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The young boy who has a cleft lip is more
    pure than the others, more honest, forgiving,
    valiant, and loyal, but he is also tragic. He
    is sacrificed so that others less worthy
    may live.
  • Why did these characters have a cleft
    lip instead of a club foot? Why does the
    communication impairment mark their tragedy?

Reading and Research
  • A reference list of about 100 trade books where
    characters are persons with communication
    disorders, such as stuttering, deafness, cleft
    lip, articulation disorder, mental retardation,
    autism, or mutism.
  • Analyzing works for themes that relate to
    depiction of these individuals in society. Are
    they seen as "whole" people? Or are they seen as
    "only" their impairment? Why would an author
    assign such an impairment to a character? Is it a
    symbol for something society believes in? Why
    would a communication impairment be used as a
    literary device? If communication impairments are
    seen as having symbolism or as identifying
    character traits, or if impairments represent
    larger ideas in society, does that denegrate or
    celebrate individuals who have communication

  • Some characters are authentic,
  • multifaceted, and realistic, but a
  • disproportionate number of
  • characterizations cannot be
  • considered complex, authentic,
  • unique, or believable. Rather,
  • authors rely on trite, hackneyed
  • themes. Few authors have written
  • stories that reflect the life
  • experiences of children with
  • communication disorders.

  • The characterizations are often
  • overdrawn and one-dimensional
  • and are sometimes degrading.
  • Some characters are too childlike
  • but most are too adultified some
  • seem to know theyll always be
  • outside the mainstream and may
  • purport not to care about the
  • mainstream others keep trying
  • to gain entrance into the
  • mainstream.

  • The Only Outcast
  • by Julie Johnston
  • A coming-of-age story set in Canada in 1904.
  • Fred, 16, is a disappointment to his
  • demanding, often cruel father. He is shy,
  • introspective, small for his age, and has a
  • severe stutter all of these factors contribute
  • to his self-doubts. When he spends the
  • summer at his grandparents cottage, he is
  • relieved to escape his father. Fred rescues his
  • siblings from danger, receives a first, painful
  • lesson in love, and discovers the truth behind
  • the local legend involving a murder. Instead of
  • molding himself to fit his father's rigid
  • expectations, Fred chooses
  • to follow his own path.

  • Characters are often engaged in
  • typical plot patterns. The
  • characters must overcome
  • obstacles, overcome social
  • isolation, show their merits
  • by extraordinary feats, behave in
  • exceptionally brave and
  • distinguished ways so that people
  • will come to accept them, and so
  • that they will find themselves and
  • learn to accept themselves.

  • The Half-a-Moon Inn
  • by Paul Fleischman
  • Set in pioneer times, 12-year-old Aarons mother
  • leaves him home alone while she runs an errand
  • during a blizzard. When Mother doesnt come
  • back, he sets out to find her. Aaron, who is
  • teams up with a ragman who cant read what
  • Aaron writes. Aaron earns his stay at an inn but
  • the madwoman innkeeper wont let him leave. She
  • keeps him in servitude as her accomplice as she
  • steals money from customers. Aaron entices the
  • innkeeper to kidnap a prison escapee because hes
  • royalty. During this caper Aaron escapes
  • and is later reunited with his mother.

  • Mary Maroney and the Snake
  • by Suzy Kline
  • Mary, who stutters, is entering second grade.
  • Characters include an understanding mother, a
  • matter-of-fact teacher, a helpful speech
  • and typical classmates some who tease and
  • who are sympathetic. But brave Mary soon gains
  • respect of all her classmates. When a snake that
  • bully Marvin has brought to school escapes,
  • stands by terrified while Mary catches it and
  • becomes the class hero. Ex-elementary teacher
  • Kline gives a glimpse the ironies and challenges
  • school life while offering a positive,
    sympathetic look
  • at stuttering.
  • Also MM and the Chocolate Surprise
  • MM, Mummy Girl
  • MM Hides Out

  • Mandy by Barbara D. Booth
  • Mandy is a deaf girl spending the day with her
  • grandmother. They bake cookies, sing and dance
  • along with the radio, and look at old pictures.
  • they take a walk, grandmother notices the brooch
  • her late husband gave her has fallen off her
  • They retrace their steps, but dont find the
  • They give up as darkness falls.
  • Mandy feels terrible when she sees grandmother
  • crying and sneaks out with a flashlight. She is
  • frightened alone in the woods at night. Lightning
  • begins to flash. But she is determined to find
  • brooch. Just when she is about to give up, she
  • it under some tall grass. She runs home to find
  • worried grandmother waiting for her. But
  • grandmothers worries turn to gratitude when she
  • sees what Mandy has done.

  • The Flim Flam Man by Darlene Bailey Beard
  • The narrator is 10-year-old Bobbie Jo, who
    stutters. In 1950 a con man, F. Bam
  • Morrison, comes to her sleepy southern town. She
    is enthralled by his speaking
  • voice. Morrison tells her he used to stutter but
    he taped himself imitating radio
  • announcers until he could speak without
    stuttering. The con enlists Bobbie Jo to
  • advertise the traveling circus its his job to
    promote. He takes small amounts of
  • cash, store goods, and favors from the townsfolk
    as payment for cutting them in
  • on the economic boom that the circus will bring
    to town.
  • In time, people start to suspect theres really
    no circus. Morrison bolts out of town.
  • Bobbie Jo and her girlfriend chase after him and
    find him fixing a flat tire. He
  • confesses he lied to her, he never had a speech
    problem and never used a tape,
  • but hed heard of someone who did. He used the
    problem to get her to identify with
  • him and trust him. The girls do not want to leave
    their town without a circus, so
  • they plan a big parade instead. Later, after two
    years of tape practice, her speech
  • is smooth. Bobbie Jo ends up thankful to F. Bam

  • The Flim Flam Man is based on true events.
  • From the Shawnee, OK News-Star
  • Wetumka's worldwide fame came following a 1950
    event where the
  • townspeople were duped by a slick, fast-talking
    con artist, F. Bam
  • Morrison. He promised a three-ring circus that
    failed to make an
  • appearance. Morrison vanished the day before the
    circus appeared,
  • snatching up the circus advanced ticket money and
    circus program
  • advertising. Wetumka merchants were left holding
    huge orders of hot
  • dogs, buns and pop for the anticipated crowd plus
    several tons of
  • hay for the circus animals. Community leaders
    were sorely
  • disappointed but not down. They staged the first
    ever Sucker Day.
  • A host of events are scheduled including a giant
    parade, Friday night
  • gospel singing, acclaimed arts and crafts show
    and sale, 8K run,
  • antique tractor exhibit, golf and softball
    tournaments, capped off by
  • a street dance with a live country band - "The
    Smoking Okies.
  • Wetumka Kiwanis and Chamber members are promoting
  • sanctioned junior rodeo, teddy bear and doll
    exhibit, kids games and

  • There are a lot of books that promote
  • friendship and acceptance of this
  • special person, not this equal person.
  • These books may sentimentalize or
  • romanticize the characters condition.

  • Deaf Child Crossing
  • by Marlee Matlin
  • A didactic entrée into deaf culture for
  • Megan, a deaf girl, is not a saint. She has her
  • and can be bratty and willful, just like any
    other girl. A
  • new hearing neighbor, Cindy, is overly helpful to
  • Megan.
  • At summer camp, Meagan shuts Cindy out of a
  • circle that involves deaf and hearing girls.
    Megan is
  • angry with Cindy because Cindy treats Megan as
  • dependent. They argue and Cindy is insulting to
  • Megan stops being angry at Cindy because Cindy is
  • finally treating her as a whole person, not with
  • solicitousness. Loosely based on Matlins
  • autobiography discussion of easy use of sound
  • amplification, TTD, hearing aids, instant

Plot Patterns
  • What happens to characters with
  • communication impairments?
  • They overcome obstacles
  • They overcome social isolation
  • They show their merits by extraordinary feats
  • They learn to accept themselves
  • People come to accept them They find
  • They make friends
  • Plots are sometimes reduced to the character
  • pleading for understanding.

Plot Patterns
  • Ben Has Something to Say
  • by Laurie Lears
  • Ben avoids talking because of his stutter. At a
    junk yard
  • that Ben and his dad regularly visit Ben
    befriends the
  • junk yard dog, although this is uncomfortable
    because the
  • junk yard owner teases Ben about being shy. Bens
  • uses Bens desire to see the dog as a motivator
    Ben must
  • talk in different situations to earn dog
    visitation privileges.
  • When Ben learns that the owner plans to send the
    dog to
  • the pound, Ben must ask the owner about adopting
  • dog. Ben finds it hard to be thought of as shy or
  • ineffective instead of as having a communication
  • The strength of this book is that it accurately
    shows that
  • stuttering is not caused by shyness or
  • anxiety. Shyness and social avoidance are
  • of having a disorder which the character finds
  • embarrassing to reveal. The mature illustrations
  • sophistication to the presentation of the story.

Plot Patterns
  • Apple is My Sign by Mary Riskind
  • Set in the late 1800s, Harry is coming of age
    amid the rift
  • between the deaf and hearing communities. Harry
  • that he must judge each person on his or
    her own merits, not by whether the person is
    hearing or deaf.

Plot Patterns
  • Some stories about understanding and acceptance
    of disability seem degrading, paradoxically,
    because the character starts out as a stereotype
    and remains a stereotype throughout the story
    what is accepted by others is this stereotype.

Plot Patterns
  • Beethoven Lives Upstairs
  • by Barbara Nichol
  • A series of letters from LvBs landladys son to
  • his uncle, the book describes LvBs
  • pounding musical rhythms on the floor, standing
  • nude in his window, writing on the walls, cutting
  • off his pianos legs to play on the floor and
  • its vibrations. LvBs flurries of creative
  • rough manners, sloppy dress, and poor house-
  • keeping are recounted. He had a temper, he was
  • scarred by his fathers abuse, and he was lonely.
  • Hes presented as a man with many troubles
  • deafness, weak eyes, migraines, sensory
  • defensiveness but a heart so full of joy.

Plot Patterns
  • Moses Goes to a Concert
  • by Isaac Millman
  • A be all you can be book. Moses, who is deaf,
    goes with
  • his class to hear a concert by an all-deaf
    orchestra. The
  • kids are welcomed by the percussionist who lets
    them play
  • a variety of percussion instruments and
    encourages them
  • to pursue their dreams.
  • In plots such as these, the character makes
  • in his life. But some issues remain
  • The characters carry all of the burden of
  • They come equipped with speechreading or a
    handy sign language glossary that makes them easy
    to communicate with.
  • Do these stories highlight the similarities
  • disabled and nondisabled people or the
  • Do these stories promote inclusion or

Plot Patterns
  • Amelia Lends a Hand by Marissa Moss
  • When Amelia learns her new neighbor is deaf, she
  • sets to learning sign language. The book is a
  • to-learn-sign manual embedded into Amelias
  • journal about her exploration of environmental
  • sounds with her new friend. Moss uses an eclectic
  • format. The book features hand-printed text,
  • colorful drawings and asides, and 32 sign
  • flash cards. The fictional story, personal
  • and how-to book flow together well. The deaf boy,
  • Enzo, is almost a secondary character. Enzo
  • knows what it is like to want to say more than
  • can. He and Amelia have in common a love of
  • drawing and writing. An American Girl book.

Plot Patterns
  • Petey by Ben Mikaelsen
  • In 1920 Petey is born, a vacant-eyed, twisted
    baby with cerebral
  • palsy who cannot be healed. His care drains his
    parents funds and
  • causes neglect of his siblings. Petey is
    institutionalized, consigned
  • to a ward of untreatable freaks. By age 5 Petey
    is conscious of
  • his environment and his impetus to express
    himself. An attendant
  • teaches Petey to nod to request chocolate, but
    the nurses say its
  • just conditioning an idiot. At age 11 Petey is
    moved a ward for the
  • insane. By this time Petey can nod yes and no
    and vocalize.
  • By age 22, attended by a loving nurse, Cassie, he
    converses with
  • words. Petey wonders what his purpose in life is.
    Throughout the
  • 1960s and 70s Petey struggles on with fellow
    resident Calvin,
  • attended by Owen. In 1977 Calvin and Owen are
    both gone. Petey is
  • sent to a nursing home. In 1990 Petey meets a
    teen, Trevor, who
  • becomes his trusted friend and advocate. Petey
    develops a bleeding
  • ulcer and pneumonia. Petey is bound to die. From
    Trevors need to
  • make Petey his family, Trevors parents learn
    that they have been
  • neglecting him and they vow to be a better

Themes by Genre
  • Contemporary Realism
  • Emancipated minors becoming independent and
    dealing with loss
  • Acceptance by peers
  • Mirroring the social issues of our times
  • (drugs, broken families)
  • The Problem Novel
  • Survival stories

Themes by Genre
  • The Flip-flop Girl by Katharine Patterson
  • Vinnie is a 9-year-old girl whose father has
    recently died.
  • Her brother, Mason, has not spoken since their
  • funeral and is behaving erratically. Vinnie ends
    up being
  • responsible for Mason at home and at school. If
  • anger and stress cause her to act out and be
  • destructive, Mason reacts even more so.
  • Vinnie stops Mason from a possible suicide on an
  • railroad trestle. He regains his ability to speak
    and Vinnie
  • repairs the relationships with her friend and
    teacher that
  • have suffered due to the strain that grief has
    caused her
  • and Mason to experience.

Themes by Genre
  • (Modern) Fantasy, (Modern Literary) Folktales,
    Myths, Legends, Fables
  • These stories alter the characteristics of
    everyday reality. The
  • impossible becomes convincingly possible.
    Unfettered by convention
  • and expectation. Settings are worlds where
    unusual circumstances are
  • believable. Themes include universal struggles,
    values (the wish to be
  • heard, not silenced?), and emotions. Constant
    battle between good
  • and evil. Faith and perseverance in the face of
    obstacles. Personal
  • and social responsibility, love, friendship. The
    story must be so good
  • that we wish it were true. Characters and their
    feelings and conflicts
  • are plausible and natural. The heros worth is
    initially unrecognized.
  • The hero is powerless (children identify with a
    lack of power) yet
  • things end justly if not happily.

Themes by Genre
  • (Modern) Fantasy, (Modern Literary) Folktales,
  • Myths, Legends, Fables
  • Ethical allegory to condemn the flaws of society
  • Cautionary tales tales to disarm and teach
  • Stories to explain natural phenomena
  • Magical stories that make children with
  • disorders responsible for natural phenomena
    how can
  • this normalize readers views of children with
    communication disorders? We are left with
    wondering why the author chose this impairment.
    What symbolism is there, what point is this

Themes by Genre
  • The characters may be magical figures, eerie or
  • The authors use the communication disorder in a
    symbolic way, to
  • illustrate a point. However, these characters do
    not promote
  • integrating children with communication disorders
    into everyday life.

Themes by Genre
  • Shining by Julius Lester is a modern literary
    folktale. Shining lives long ago in a
  • mountain village. She is so quiet, she doesnt
    even birth cry. Her parents take her to see The
  • One, the wise woman, who says it is natural for
    Shining to be silent.
  • At age 12 she is supposed to be sent away for a
    year to live with women and learn the ways of
  • women. She is not allowed to go because her
    silence steals peoples souls. Ethereally
  • Shining makes others uneasy and suspicious. They
    fear an evil spirit has taken her voice.
  • Shunned, she sleeps for a year. When the girls
    her age come back, The One enters the village
  • and claims Shining as her daughter. She can talk
    now, but all she does is sing a wordless song
  • of the sounds of nature.
  • The town asks her forgiveness. She goes off to
    live with The One. Why is she silent? Silence
  • had become language. Through her powers, she
    hears all of peoples joys and sorrows and
  • fears. She is there to listen, especially to what
    they do not hear.

Themes by Genre
  • Historical Fiction (The Only Outcast, Apple is My
    Sign, The Half-a-Moon Inn,
  • Beethoven Lives Upstairs, The Flim Flam Man)
  • Secret signs Along the underground railroad
  • by Anita Riggio
  • Luke and his mother are a white family
  • to the abolitionists. When slave catchers prevent
  • Luke's mother from selling her sugar-painted eggs
  • at the general store to earn her living, Luke,
    who is
  • deaf, must find the courage and means to deliver
  • the information about a new hiding place for
  • runaway slaves. He secretly removes a painting in
  • one of the eggs and creates a painting that
  • the new hiding place and maneuvers to put the egg
  • in the contact persons hands.

  • When selecting literature, we need to
  • be sure that viewpoints expressed are
  • contemporary and reflect equality and
  • social participation for children with
  • communication disorders. We need to
  • be cautious of stories that are
  • outmoded and that portray passivity,
  • limitations, and dependency. Does
  • the story help readers participate in
  • the experiences of children with
  • communication disorders?

  • The story should not be pedantic, simplistic,
  • offensive, or demeaning. The message should
  • be that children with communication disorders
  • can be fully functioning members of society
  • and are whole people. The characters should
  • be more than their differences, their
  • problem, or their label.
  • What qualities help the children with
  • communication disorders triumph? Wit,
  • cunning, perseverance, keen observational
  • powers, bravery.
  • Do these traits render them more like other
  • children or different from typical children?
  • Choose stories with strong, real people, not
  • people specially endowed with powers that
  • compensate for their communication deficits.

  • Thanks to Meaghan Andrew
  • Wilson, Montclair State
  • University, for research
  • assistance, careful review of
  • several books, numerous
  • trips in the snow to libraries all
  • over NJ, and bailing me out
  • when my books were overdue…..

Images of Children With Communication Disorders
in Modern Childrens Fiction
  • Monica Gordon Pershey, Ed.D., CCC-SLP
  • Associate Professor
  • Director, Speech and Hearing Program
  • Department of Health Sciences
  • Cleveland State University
  • 216-687-4534