BY BETSI ROBINSON
When Mona Yennior gave birth to son, Jayden, six years ago, the first-time mom thought he was perfect.
“Just perfect,” she says with a smile.
But in the six months following that joyous day, she and husband, Todd, noticed that Jayden did not respond to noises. The couple discussed their concerns with a pediatrician, but the doctor didn’t seem overly concerned at the time.
The worried parents decided to conduct a few tests of their own. Behind Jayden’s back, they slammed two books together. No response. Then they played a French horn. No response.
“We started with small sounds, and then we made them bigger,” says Todd, who lives with his family in Lewisville. “Jayden never turned around. He didn’t even move.”
Alarmed, the couple took Jayden to an audiologist for proper testing. The diagnosis they received that day would change their lives forever.
“He failed the tests on both sides—both of his cochleas were underdeveloped,” Mona explains. “He got hearing aids at eight months old, and there was a 50-50 chance that he wouldn’t ever be able to talk. You have your worst thoughts when you are going through something like this. What’s going to happen? What is my child going to be like? We thought that we had this perfect child and then found out that he hadn’t heard our voices the whole time.”
About a year later, Jayden received a cochlear implant—a surgically implanted electronic device that provides sound signals to the brain in one of his ears. Then, to hasten development of his lagging language skills, the family began working with a speech pathologist to learn “cued speech.” Cued speech is a visual mode of communication in which mouth movements and hand shapes combine to make the phonemes of spoken language look different.
Not long after their son’s surgery, the Yenniors were invited to attend a retreat hosted by The CARE Project, a nonprofit organization in North Carolina that provides weekend retreat experiences and support for families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing. They spent a weekend on Bald Head Island and enjoyed having child care for the first time since Jayden was born. At the time, Mona was pregnant with daughter Ariyana, now four years old.
Spending time with families like their own, and hearing from professionals what to expect on their journey with Jayden, is an experience they will never forget.
“You can’t have a child with hearing loss and not feel the loss,” Todd says. “It gave me a sense of comfort knowing that there are other guys out there going through the loss. Men, in particular, don’t talk about emotions so much. Being given the opportunity to open up a little bit, and having the mentors there, it helped.”
The Yenniors were especially thankful to tap into such a supportive community, because they don’t have family close by. “We had just moved to North Carolina back in 2010, and we had no actual support here,” Mona says. “It was something we needed. No one tells you to be prepared for something like this—that you are going to have a lot of ups and downs in life.”
These days Jayden is thriving. After spending his preschool years in a special class for hearing-impaired students, he begins first grade this fall in a regular class at Lewisville Elementary School with a full-time “transliterator” by his side.
“We all worked so hard on this child. He speaks so well, and he reads on a second-grade level now,” Mona says with pride. “We live literally across the street from the school. We have been waiting for this day.”
How you can help:
Each year, The CARE Project hosts a gala to raise money to provide retreat experiences and support for families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
This year’s 7th-Annual CARE Project Gala will be held from 6–11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23rd, at the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro. The special guest will be Jonathan Hutcherson, a partially deaf singer-songwriter who rocketed to fame in 2016 as a finalist on Season 10 of The Voice.
To purchase gala tickets ($75), visit TCPGala2017.eventbrite.com.
Individuals and businesses interested in supporting The CARE Project as gala sponsors may contact Karen Parrish at KJacksonParrish@hotmail.com.
For more information about The CARE Project and its important work in North Carolina, visit TheCareProject.com.