“A skilled science translator, Denworth makes decibels, teslas and brain plasticity understandable to all.”—Washington Post
Lydia Denworth’s third son, Alex, was nearly two when he was identified with significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. Denworth knew the importance of enrichment to the developing brain but had never contemplated the opposite: deprivation. How would a child’s brain grow outside the world of sound? How would he communicate? Would he learn to read and write?
An acclaimed science journalist as well as a mother, Denworth made it her mission to find out, interviewing experts on language development, inventors of groundbreaking technology, Deaf leaders, and neuroscientists at the frontiers of brain plasticity research. I Can Hear You Whisper chronicles Denworth’s search for answers—and her new understanding of Deaf culture and the exquisite relationship between sound, language, and learning.
In this moving and informative book, former Newsweek reporter Denworth recounts her emotional and intellectual quest to help her deaf infant son hear. Throughout, she recreates the emotional highs and lows of the boy's journey. Among the many luminous moments is a moving description of Denworth's onset of sadness before her son's cochlear implant surgery: "In the predawn darkness of a December morning," she writes, "I watched Alex sleeping in his crib for a moment and gently ran my fingers along the side of his sweet head just above his ear. In a few hours, that spot would be forever changed by a piece of hardware." Denworth balances such scenes with well-researched glimpses into the labs of researchers and doctors trying to understand the mechanics of the rich human aural experience. Of particular interest are the passages in which she explores brain plasticity, a potential explanation for why our still-primitive cochlear implants work at all: humans' pliable brains adjust to, and improve on, the machines. "I began to understand that the brain was in there, that there was a miracle in play here," she quotes one cochlear implant researcher. This is a book that parents, particularly of deaf children, may find indispensable.
Superb Storytelling and Great Science Writing!
I Can Hear You Whisper is a thoroughly researched, beautifully written and very engaging account of the physiology of hearing, brain plasticity, deaf culture and a mother’s pursuit to both understand and help her son, Alex. Denworth provides a wonderful balance between the science and the complex history of deafness, on the one hand, and her own family’s struggle to grasp what it means to deal with a child’s severe hearing impairments, on the other. Denworth has assembled a fascinating and detailed account of the development of the Cochlear implant both from a scientific standpoint as well as the controversy it caused within the deaf community. Indeed, one of the many unexpected treasures in this book is a history of deaf culture and what it means to identify as deaf in a hearing world. Through superb storytelling and an excellent grasp of the underlying science, the book explores the many aspects of brain development and language. One of her many gifts as an author is to sift through enormous amounts of material (both written research and dozens of interviews) and assemble a clear, understandable and fascinating explanation of the science of language and how hearing affects so many aspects of how we learn. At its heart though this book is a wonderfully inspiring story of a mother’s love for her son and her quest to help him. And what’s a better read than a love story with a happy ending?