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)
  • nicolettem-2-bar
    5/27/2016 - 02:05 a.m.

    Neil must "train his brain" because he needs his brain to understand and interprete what people are saying so that he can understand them.
    This article made me very happy because a little boy who is able to overcome deafness is very special and the fact that on top of that Neil got second place in a spelling bee and I think that's just amazing.

  • rorys-1-bar
    5/27/2016 - 02:19 a.m.

    Neil must "train his brain" because he is deaf. In the article it states that Neil gets "cochlear implants" so that he can hear out of both of his ears. Since he is deaf and he is not used to hearing words and other noises he must "train his brain" to "to understand spoken words". This process took countless hours for him to achieve.

    Opinion: I thought this article was nice how a kid who was deaf could participate in a National Spelling despite his obstacles.

  • lilyr-4-bar
    5/27/2016 - 02:36 a.m.

    Neil must "train his brain" because he is deaf and cannot hear words. This is shown where it says, "...Neil Maes, being born deaf..." I found this article interesting because it was a very special story.

  • autianae-ste
    5/27/2016 - 07:38 a.m.

    Neil is very inspiring at a young age. He didn't let his disabilities get in the way of his capabilities.

  • nanm-wes
    5/27/2016 - 09:11 a.m.

    Neil must try his brain so he can hear the person talking in his head.He able to visualize what the people are saying to him in his.Neil was 11 mouth when he become deaf.His mom had to train him to able to do that.

  • sethg-2-bar
    5/27/2016 - 11:27 a.m.

    Neil was born deaf. He had to train his brain to "understand spoken words." He needed to be able to understand words if he wanted to compete in spelling bees. I found this article interesting because my cousin is deaf.

  • jacobh-kut
    5/27/2016 - 12:22 p.m.

    He has to train his brain because of the fact that the implants are just a tool and he needs to train himself how to use this tool and how to understand people and what they are saying. Tools most of the time have to be used over and over and need to be trained with to properly use it. He has conquered many obstacles even though he was born with a hearing disorder.

  • jackr-2-bar
    5/27/2016 - 03:56 p.m.

    Neil must train his brain because of his cochlear implant, the implant ignores the bad part of the ear and sends electrical signals straight to the hearing nerve and these signals don't sound the like the other ones to him but over time he can train his brain to sound the the same as everyone else hears them, "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. "(paragraph 10) This article was interesting because its cool how a deaf kid can hear.

  • stellas-6-bar
    5/27/2016 - 04:00 p.m.

    Neil has to train his brain because he is deaf. He was born deaf, so he has to think a little harder than everyone else. Neil has to train his brain for certain sounds. This article is interesting because I think we underestimate how our hearing helps in everyday situations.

  • sheridanm-6-bar
    5/27/2016 - 04:03 p.m.

    Neil must "train his brain" because he was born deaf so his brain works differently than people who can hear. Neil must "train his brain" to pick up sounds the same way most people do but this is difficult for him because it goes against what he has been doing his whole life. He has to rewire his brain so that he can hear noises and not rely on his other senses like he has been before. In conclusion Neil must train his brain because he is changing what he has been relying on his whole life so he has to adapt to that.

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