Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1755, acrylic painting on canvas, 42 x 36 inches, 2012

Q: In terms of this hearing thing in your early childhood, why hide?

ReeL: Kids are ruthless. I remember how merciless the kids were with the nisei kids [Japanese-American, first generation born in the Americas] on the play ground who couldn’t distinguish between an “L” and “R” sound. Here I was, I couldn’t do that either and a lot more.

You learn early on to keep things to yourself. Avoid saying certain words, things like that. In my case I could only pronounce what I was told by my speech teacher was a “German “L””–in the front of the mouth with the tip of the tongue far forward. I couldn’t pronounce  the word “little” correctly at all.

You know, when you are a kid, you sort of assume your reality is what reality is. You aren’t always that cognizant that your reality may be fundamentally different from  other people’s realities.

This is one reason it is also hard to get at abuse and learning disabilities and other problems where a kid’s experience is significantly different from others. There’s a fundamental perception problem, plus there are inbuilt incentives to veil it.

These are coupled with an inability of a young kid to fully grasp how significant this difference is from everyone else around you.

Q: Not to mention that there might be problems with the adults not wanting things out in the open either.

ReeL: Oh, definitely, and not just in abuse situations. Parents are driven to want to believe their kids are totally normal.

As a kid, all you know is that something is definitely not quite right. But you also know that there are some very good reasons to hide it, and this is coupled with being too young to know enough about how things are for other people in order for you to fully appreciate how big a difference it is.

There is no way a five-year-old is going to sort any of that out.

Q: A five-year-old? How about a twelve- or fourteen-year-old!

ReeL: Yea, exactly. My hearing problem was first caught when I was 15, not fully understood until I was in college.

As for kids, you need experts just to figure out what the kid is experiencing. Kids don’t even have the vocabulary to describe it, even if they could get through all the perceptual and social issues. It’s just too complex. And the subtler it is, the easier to hide.

Q: And, I suspect, the more intelligent the kid, the easier for them to hide.

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