Viet Nam News
by Lương Thu Hương
Seeing Trần Khương and his daughter, Trần Lê Khả Ái, talking happily to each other, it is hard to believe that they have been through an arduous 19-year journey.
Trần Khương has made Ái, who suffered from hearing and speech disabilities, into a girl who can hear and speak.
Moreover, Ái will soon graduate from a high school for able-bodied students, and sit for an examination to enter the university like other teenage girls. Behind her achievements are the endless efforts of her father who has patiently taught her how to speak and has accompanied her in her studies over the years.
Twenty years ago, Khương left his hometown in Quảng Ngãi Central Province to settle in HCM City, full of hope for his family’s new life and aspirations for his new-born daughter.
However, his happiness did not last long when he discovered that 20-month-old Ái did not behave like any other toddler her age and did not respond to even the loudest noise. In fear, her parents had her checked up in two children’s hospitals in the city, Nhi Đồng 1 and Ear Nose Throat Hospital, HCM City. They were shocked on being told that their daughter suffered from a hearing and speech disability.
“I was very disappointed on realising the painful fact that all of our daughter’s dreams and future had been shattered,” Khang recalls.
Refusing to accept this as their fate, Ái’s parents took her to all the recommended doctors in the hope that they would help her hear and speak normally.
Time flew, but the 30-month-old girl was incapable of uttering a single syllable. However, the hopes of Khương and his wife received a boost when they accidentally learnt about the programme of early intervention for deaf and mute children.
A hearing aid cost as much as five taels of gold at that time. They sold the Honda Cub motorcycle, their most valuable item, for one tael and borrowed the rest from their acquaintances to purchase a hearing aid for their daughter.
“As long as there was opportunity, we would not give up,” Khương says.
Under instructions from teachers from the centre for the disabled, Ái gradually accepted the hearing aid as part of her body and was conscious of the very first sound.
“Like grasping at the last life-saving equipment in the vast ocean, I began to hope that my daughter would be able to hear and speak someday, though I knew that it would not be in the near future,” he recalls.
Ái’s mother used to be a worker for a company with a salary of VNĐ1,1 million (US$50), which was sufficient for the family’s monthly expenses at that time.
However, because of the misfortune that struck their daughter, Khương agreed to let his wife quit her stable job and stay at home to teach Ái to speak. He himself managed to support the whole family by taking up numerous jobs at one time. In the morning, he worked as a bricklayer, wall painter, and motorcycle taxi driver, and in the evening he took up sewing to earn more.
In the early days, with the hearing aid, Ái was able to utter just some sounds such as when holding her father’s fingers toward the cup if she wanted to drink water. The parents had to patiently teach her to imitate the shape of their mouth on saying “drink”. After days of practice, she could finally pronounce the word “drink”, though not very clearly.
The average vocabulary of a normal five-year-old child is 5,000 words, but Ái only knew two.
Not discouraged, Khương collected many pictures of animals, fruits and plants and then instructed her on how to pronounce. It took her a long time to produce the correct sound. At times she was bored and did not co-operate with her parents so they had to revise their teaching methods to make it more interesting, such as narrating fairy tales.
“In order to help her communicate normally, we did not mind talking to her for hours,” Khương says.
In addition to learning how to speak, Ái also learnt the names of other items around her by doing the housework, which helped her to improve her communication skills significantly.
When Khương decided to let his daughter attend nursery and primary school for normal students even though she had not been able to communicate fluently, his mind was in a state of turmoil.
After discussions with the teachers, the father also carefully took notes of his daughter’s lessons from outside the classroom every day and then explained them to her after school.
“Ái could communicate basically but she was facing difficulty catching up with the lessons. I, therefore, also attended her class but ensured that it did not affect other students,” he says.
The father industriously attended the daughter’s class in the daytime, and took up extra sewing work at night when she did her homework. A tutor was once hired to assist her in her studies, but the teacher’s method did not suit Ái’s absorbing capacity and the tuition was pretty high-level. Khương decided that she would study alone with his assistance when necessary.
“Ái was weak at social subjects like Literature or History, which required the students to absorb directly what the teacher delivered, so I often attended those classes with Ái. When I was busy, I contacted the subject teachers and received advice on revising the lessons with her,” he says.
After years of patience and dedication by both, father and daughter, their efforts finally bore fruit. From a reserved girl who used to lock herself away from the outside world due to her complexes, Ái was able to hear 30 per cent and speak 70 per cent as fluently as normal people, and became more confident in communicating.
In three years, attending Lý Thái Tổ High School with the enthusiastic support of her teachers, Ái showed good study results. She was especially good at scientific subjects such as Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.
She is studying hard to prepare for the upcoming entrance examination to university to realise her dream of becoming a fashion or arts designer.
Khương considered his daughter’s achievements as his most precious treasure, which seems to have doubled when his second child, Trần Ngọc Khiêm just won a gold medal in the city’s mathematics competition for high school students.
“What if I had given up like many other parents who faced the same plight? My daughter would have remained deaf and mute and communicated only via signal language. She could not be herself today. But now she has been communicating well, partially due to her own efforts,” Khương says.
He adds that parents undeniably play a crucial role. “It does not matter if your child is normal or handicapped. Each one of them is born to be an angel, and their shortcoming is just one of God’s minor mistakes.”
“It is important that parents accompany the children as much as possible, creating opportunities for them communicate and integrate into society. Don’t let negative ideas interfere and kill their children’s future,” he adds. VNS