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June 12, 2003

Support, not hearing, is boy's sound of success

From: Contra Costa Times, CA - Jun 12, 2003

SEVEN-YEAR-OLD Joshua Davis of Dublin steps up to the plate for the Little League Training Reds.

It's only his second year playing baseball and his first playing "real" ball, where the kids hit live pitching instead of a stationary ball perched atop a batting tee.

There's a lot of encouragement being shouted to him by parents and his coaches, but the young Dougherty Elementary School student really can't hear any of it. The sound being carried to his inner ear by his cochlear implant is really just a lot of noise to him -- a combination of muffled voices and the wind blending with loud low-pitched rumbling from the nearby freeway to create a sound the young man has learned to ignore.

In fact, the noise doesn't really seem to matter, as Josh intently follows the ball from the pitcher's hand to the plate and takes a mighty swing at the pitch ...

Seven years ago in Arizona, Josh was diagnosed at birth with mild-to-moderate hearing loss caused by a viral infection. His parents, Kim and Jeff, put hearing aids on him at 8 months of age, but by the time he was one, the remainder of his hearing was lost. For the next year his parents learned and helped teach Josh sign language in order to be able to communicate with their young son.

At the age of 2, after clearing a waiting list, Josh underwent cochlear implant surgery and began the slow, painstaking effort to learn to process all the confusing sounds he was now hearing.

"It takes a long time after surgery to really understand what you're hearing. He couldn't tell the difference between running water and people talking. We literally had to teach him what every sound he heard was," says Kim. "Gradually, he was able to learn to distinguish between one and three syllable words, for example. But even by the age of 4, he really couldn't speak English."

While continuing to use sign language, Josh spent countless hours in speech therapy at school and Children's Hospital Oakland, and has made substantial progress in being able to both understand and speak.

"Three years ago, he couldn't speak English. Now we can't keep him quiet," Kim said with a laugh.

Doctors say the same virus that caused his hearing loss also caused him to have motor skill problems, which delayed his ability to crawl and walk. In fact, up until this year, Josh has undergone physical therapy every week to help him overcome this added challenge. To help further the young man's development, his parents decided to let Josh try organized sports.

"We always thought the best way for him to learn to use and strengthen his muscles was to put him into sports. It also helped him to learn to be around other kids," says his very patient mom, who adds that since the age of 4, Josh has played baseball, basketball and soccer in Dublin.

Although some parents of hearing impaired children won't let their children participate in sports for safety reasons, the Davis family doesn't share that philosophy -- at least not at this stage. They say it's obviously more difficult for Josh to quickly process everything that's going on around him, and may even try using a short-range FM radio system that can be hooked into his hearing aid system to help their son stay focused and alert on the field next year.

Being able to use sign language also has been helpful for his extremely dedicated parents, and his 9-year-old sister Hannah, who learned to sign along with her younger brother.

On the field, Josh says his favorite defensive position is pitcher, saying he "likes catching the ball." But where he's made the most dramatic progress is with his hitting. Josh had trouble during much of the early part of the season, not quite able to put all the necessary motor skills together in just the right way to more consistently hit the ball. But by the end of the year, something seemed to click, according to his mom, and young Joshua started swinging the bat as well as many of his peers.

And on this spring afternoon, in one of the Reds' final games of the season, the 7-year old boy who has made a developmental quantum leap in the past three years connects with the pitch and hits a hard ground ball between the shortstop and the third baseman for a base hit.

Josh doesn't need to hear the fans in the stands loudly cheering for him. He knows. And you can see the payoff in his proud, happy eyes, and in his bright, beaming smile. And that, my friends, is scored as a grand slam in the scorebook.

© 2003 Contra Costa Times and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.