11-year-old overcomes deafness, competes in National Spelling Bee
11-year-old overcomes deafness, competes in National Spelling Bee Neil Maes, 11, of Belton, S.C., center, and his mother Christy Maes, are interviewed by a television station at The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
11-year-old overcomes deafness, competes in National Spelling Bee
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Making it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee is an amazing achievement for any kid. But for 11-year-old Neil Maes, being born deaf made his journey especially unlikely.
 
After receiving cochlear implants in both ears as a baby, he had to train his brain to understand spoken words. It took countless hours of speech therapy.
 
"We didn't even know that he'd be able to talk. It wasn't a guarantee," his mother, Christy Maes, said.
 
Now the soft-spoken kid from Belton, South Carolina is officially one of the nation's top young spellers. He earned the right to take the stage with 281 others in preliminary rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington.
 
The final rounds are May 26.
 
The only assistance Neil requires is that the bee's pronouncer will speak into a microphone. It transmits an FM signal directly into his cochlear implants. Similar to the technology he uses in school, it allows him to filter out background noise and focus on each word.
 
Neil's parents have given him another tip. They coached him to always ask the pronouncer for the definition of a word, so that he can be sure he heard it correctly. Most contestants do this anyway.
 
Peter and Christy Maes had no experience with deafness in their families. It turns out they're both carriers for a genetic mutation. It causes hearing loss. Neil got his first implant at 11 months old. One of his two younger sisters was also born deaf, and has implants as well.
 
"My goal was for him to meet his potential, no matter what it was," his mother said. "It turned out to be pretty good!"
 
Cochlear implants bypass the non-functioning parts of the ear. They send an electrical signal directly to the hearing nerve. While speech, music and other noises don't sound exactly like they do to a person with normal hearing, the brain can learn to process those sounds in a similar way over time. This is according to Dr. Michael Hoa, a surgeon at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital who performs cochlear implantations.
 
But these implants are merely a tool, the doctor said. Neil's intelligence and work ethic get credit for the rest.
 
"He's able to handle very complex words. You tell him, 'Spell this word,' and he's able to actually visualize what that sounds like in his head and spell the word. It's actually quite impressive," Hoa said. "There's a lot that goes into training your brain to do that."
 
Christy Maes gave up her nursing job to help Neil through speech therapy. Now she works as a preschool teacher.
 
She choked up several times when talking about her son's journey in an interview at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It's a group that advocates for early intervention to help hearing-impaired kids.
 
Neil's parents didn't know he was participating in a spelling bee with his third-grade class until he came home and told them he had won. He made it all the way to his regional bee that year. He finished second. Now a fifth-grader, Neil is naturally shy and already worn out from the hectic bee-week schedule. He seemed happy to let his mom do most of the talking.
 
"Our main hope out of all of this was to encourage and inspire people that are going to be facing what we had to face," Christy said.
 
But Neil said coming to the bee has motivated him to study even harder, so he can return next year.
 
"It's just fun," Neil said, "because I've never been here before, and I just want to do it again."

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween56/11-year-old-overcomes-deafness-competes-national-spelling-bee/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why must Neil “train his brain?”
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COMMENTS (97)
  • jacks-6-bar
    5/26/2016 - 09:57 p.m.

    Neil must "train his brain" as it requires practice to spell the words efficiently, especially when deaf. Dr. Michael Hoa, a cochlear implant surgeon, states that "You tell him [Neil], 'Spell this word,' and he's able to actually visualize what that sounds like in his head and spell the word. It's actually quite impressive." Neil is already deaf, so it already is quite hard to get into a spelling bee at that, let alone the nationals. Especially when he must visualize multiple words properly, corresponding with their origins, usages and definitions, Neil would need significant preparation in order to be totally ready for such an important event. In order to prone one's brain for doing that (especially hard when they have a nervous disability), it would require considerable training in order to eventually maintain the creative thought process controlling fitting difficult combinations into a sensible pattern or order more successfully, efficiently, and often. When deaf, it is even more crucial that Neil train his brain to continue to focus on his task at hand, or on how to spell a word. Hoa went further to compliment him on his success doing so.
    This article was wonderfully enlightening: a simple eleven-year-old, deaf kid takes on a great challenge (the national spelling bee) in this article. There is truly nothing more brave or encouraging, and gives one something to be thankful for sometimes.

  • caymanm-2-bar
    5/26/2016 - 11:49 p.m.

    Neil must train his brain to understand the words that people say to him. He has to visualize the words he hears in his head to spell them out, which would take a while to master. The article says, "After receiving cochlear implants in both ears as a baby, he had to train his brain to understand spoken words." I thought this article was interesting because I would not expect Neil to win a spelling bee.

  • michaely-6-bar
    5/26/2016 - 11:52 p.m.

    Neil must train his brain because since he can't here it is hardert to understand the word being said for him to spell. I think it is amazing how a deaf person could do so well in a spelling bee. All that hard work and training must have payed off if he is so good at spelling bees and is deaf. I hope he will get noticed for how smart and hard worker he is. I really like this article because it shows hard work pays off. This article shows me a lesson,keep trying your hardest and never stop believing or trying.

  • pipern-2-bar
    5/27/2016 - 12:02 a.m.

    Neil has to train his brain because he is deaf in both ears. It is difficult for him to understand spoken words,but with countless hours of speech therapy,he manages to do it by visualizing the word in his head."After receiving cochlear implants in both ears as a baby, he had to train his brain to understand spoken words. It took countless hours of speech therapy." (Paragraph 2) This is quite remarkable,this kid is really impressive and I hope he won the spelling bee!

  • raymunda-4-bar
    5/27/2016 - 12:12 a.m.

    Neil has to "train his brain" because he is deaf. When he is deaf, he can't hear the real pronunciation of the word, as we hear, but through a signal. Neil received, "cochlear implants in both ears as a baby, he had to train his brain to understand spoken words. It took countless hours of speech therapy." (Paragraph 2, Ben Nuckols) This shows that if he wants to train for the spelling bee, he has to train to understand words. Even Hoa, his doctor, said "He's able to handle very complex words. You tell him, 'Spell this word,' and he's able to actually visualize what that sounds like in his head and spell the word. It's actually quite impressive... There's a lot that goes into training your brain to do that." (Paragraph 12)
    This article is interesting because there is a deaf fourth grader that is really good at spelling. What shocked me the most, is that he got 2nd place at regional! I bet he is a better speller than me!

  • madelinew-1-bar
    5/27/2016 - 12:32 a.m.

    Because he was born deaf, Neil must "train his brain" in order to understand what people are saying, since he's not used to hearing sound.
    I loved this article. It's fascinating how someone who can't hear as well as others can work their way up to the national spelling bee.

  • olgan-4-bar
    5/27/2016 - 12:38 a.m.

    Neil must train his brain in order to understand what others are saying and get used to hearing their words. The article states "he had to train his brain to understand spoken words. It took countless hours of sleep therapy". I think that Neil is very brave and has accomplished so much at such a young age.

  • matthewp-6-bar
    5/27/2016 - 12:52 a.m.

    Neil had to train his brain to be able to understand spoken words. It took him countless hours of speech therapy in order to understand spoken words. This is shown in the article by," It took him countless hours of speech therapy." My opinion about this article is that I think it is amazing that he was able to be apart of the national spelling bee even though he was deaf.

  • ethanm-4-bar
    5/27/2016 - 01:06 a.m.

    Neil must train his brain because he is deaf so he has to visualize the word for the spelling bee. This type of brain training took countless hours of speech therapy. Neil has won many spelling bees because of that training and therapy.
    I was very surprized that he even can spell and hear things, and even win many spelling bees. That is truly amazing.

  • paigea-3-bar
    5/27/2016 - 01:06 a.m.

    Neil must "train his brain" to understand words that are spoken out loud. The article states, "After receiving cochlear implants in both ears as a baby, he had to train his brain to understand spoken words. It took countless hours of speech therapy." I can only imagine how hard it would be to learn how to spell right after you learn words themselves and what they mean. I liked this article and I find it fascinating how someone can do something so extraordinary in such a short period of time. That would take lots of perseverance and courage to put yourself out there to learn something new like that. It is also amazing how this boy turned into a spelling genius.

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