This article first appeared in CICS Magazine.

A Secret Weapon

Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns
by Dana Suskind, MD

Milly Smith* was a child sturdy in body and mind. In the era when profoundly deaf children wore large body worn hearing aids in chest harnesses she used every scrap of her available hearing. She read voraciously and had a view on everything. Conversation with her was always interesting. I was very privileged to teach such an able and engaging child.

Milly parents were busy people. John was in full time work and Mary did most of the day to day care of Milly and her siblings, the lion’s share of managing the household as well as working full time, and studying to improve her qualifications…She even found time to make a weekly visit to her elderly neighbour, when they watched a TV programme together.

One evening I was invited to have supper with the family. I asked Mary how on earth she managed to spin all her plates. It emerged that she had a secret weapon. She said,  “Oh, with John and Jesus I can manage anything”.

She told me of their weekly Bible study and how it informed all the aspects of their family life. Reading the Bible was central to their marriage and the way they brought up their children. It empowered her deal with all the pressures of life, including bringing up a profoundly deaf child, who had, as was common at that time, a very late diagnosis and by today’s standards, pitiful access to auditory information.

Information is Power

Well, I suggest that reading and information are power. In addition to the religious text of your faith, or the texts that inform your non-faith views, I strongly recommend Dana Suskind’s marvellous book as a secret weapon. It’s called Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns.

Many parents of deaf children are advised to talk more, but Dana Suskind breaks this advice down into simple every day examples that show how we can help our children’s brain development by tuning in and taking turns in the talking. It’s easy reading, big font, an informal style and full of really practical everyday examples of how to do this.

As we are now all so aware of the need for early intervention the it seems that this book is aimed at the parents of younger children. If you are wondering, yes, we really do need to use 30 million words in the early years of a child’s life to enable them to access the world of spoken language. But Suskind is not only a cochlear implant surgeon; she’s also the mother of 3 children.

She understands the practicalities of life, and her experience as a parent shines through the text. Although the ideas are based on her research into the needs of deaf children developing spoken language, and specifically aimed at supporting deaf children’s auditory brain development, they are inclusive, useful for deaf and hearing children alike.

The Power of Parent Talk

I think there are parts of this book that would also be very useful for the parents of older children, even the parents of young deaf adults. In chapter 4, The Power of Parent Talk, she spells out ways of fostering self-regulation, stability and persistence.

Every young person needs oodles of resilience to deal with the vicissitudes of the worlds of higher or further education and work. Deaf awareness can sometimes be limited, so we need to help our children and young people to be persistent, enabling them to succeed, and their talents to shine.

Get your copy

Unfortunately, at the moment, this book is only available in hardback so it is quite expensive. However, if you are interested, drop me an email. My address is: I’ll send it to you on a one month loan, as long as you promise to package it up and send it back to me, so the next parent can borrow it too.

*The names of the Smith family are made up to preserve their privacy, but the story is true.