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December 25, 2005

A joy to their world: Karate, sign language open 6-year-old's world

From:, MI - Dec 25, 2005


Sunday, December 25, 2005

By Emily Dudderar

MT. MORRIS TWP. - Pressing his glasses intently to his nose and balling his fists in determination, Jason Thoune of Flint gazes at the expectant faces of his peers at King's Karate.

They are cheering him on, but Jason cannot hear them because his world is silent. He has been deaf since he was a baby. His eyesight also is limited.

An elevated board that he must break to earn his yellow belt sits before him. The golden piece of cloth is important to Jason: It will declare he is no longer a beginner, but an equal to many of his peers.

Soft, high noises come from Jason as he stomps on the board several times. It does not break. Furrowing his brow, Jason wipes the light brown hair from his face and sets his mouth firm.

Jackie King, master of the karate school, 5339 N. Saginaw St., tries to instruct Jason on his footing, but Jason cannot hear the words. King switches to a smaller board, and the boy easily breaks it in two. The class cheers, but Jason is not satisfied.

Twenty minutes later, after most of the kids have gone home, Jason indicates to King that he wants to try the big board again. He stomps over and over on his original board and eventually breaks it.

One of the last audience members left in the room is Jason's great-grandmother, Ellen Thoune, with whom he lives in Flint. Sweeping him up in her arms, she tells Jason how proud she is of him.

Everyone around him seems to feel the same: Jason has become an inspiration.

"When I look at Jason just trying to make it," said King, who runs the school with wife Dora. "I look at him and say, 'Wow.'

"This has changed my life a little bit."

Breaking out

It also has changed Jason's.

Karate has forced him out of his quiet shell since he started classes in April. In his own way, he is able to interact with other students, an incredible achievement considering he had no communication skills a couple years ago and was separated from nearly everyone.

Doctors say they believe Jason lost his hearing to spinal meningitis when he was 7 months old. When he turned 1, his family began taking him to doctors to determine the severity of his hearing loss, and he was declared profoundly deaf.

Jason began wearing hearing aids when he was about 2. They are believed to help him feel vibrations but nothing more, according to his great-grandmother.

Meanwhile, Jason began wearing heavy glasses about a year ago. Without them, he cannot properly make out a person signing 10 feet in front of him.

Jason, whose parents declined to be interviewed for this story, permanently moved in with his great-grandmother about a year and a half ago.

The extra responsibility has been anything but a burden for Thoune, 64.

"I just love him so much," she said. "I think this is one thing that keeps me and great-grandpa going."

The time with Thoune has been a blessing for Jason, too.

The 4-year-old unable to communicate with his peers has grown into a 6-year-old using American Sign Language to express himself, said Shonda Gleeson, his teacher at Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint.

Thoune, too, is learning ASL.. Once a week, a tutor from the deaf school comes to the house and helps her sign the words to whatever book Jason has read in class.

"Usually, he grabs the book and signs it all himself because he's recently learned it and wants to show us," his great-grandmother said.

Jason also is close to his great-grandfather, Ronald, who is battling health problems. When great-grandpa makes trips to the hospital, Jason signs to great-grandma that he wants to go.

Also learning ASL in the home is Thoune's daughter and Jason's grandmother, Tammy Baxter of Flint, who is currently living with the Thounes to help with her ailing father.

Peer pressure

It was Ellen Thoune's idea to enroll Jason at King's Karate. The lessons pushed him to interact physically with his peers because, without being able to speak to him, Jason's classmates were encouraged to help him with movements.

In class, students next to Jason frequently give him tugs on the arm to gently point out what he cannot hear from the instructor.

"One of our goals this whole time has been to build bridges between kids, and then cross them," Jackie King said. "Kids are so open, they haven't been built up in prejudices of the world yet. Put them together and they can work it out."

King said he dreams of someday taking Jason to karate tournaments across the country with the Youth Karate Association.

"I've got big plans for Jason," he said.

On Dec. 10, Jason took a test to earn a stripe on his yellow belt.

One of the requirements was to recite the King's Karate motto: "Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough."

After signing the motto, Jason once again had to break a board by stomping on it. He broke it on the first try.

"You take what God gave you in this life and make the best of it," said Dora King. "Jason is now realizing that he can contribute many things to this world."

On a night after the karate class, Jason proudly wears his new yellow belt around the house until it is dark. Cuddling in his great-grandmother's arms, she signs to ask him if he's ready to go to bed.

Jason gives his great-grandpa a kiss and heads upstairs after signing goodnight.

"He is the reason for every breath I take," Ellen Thoune said. "The joy of my life."


©2005 Flint Journal© 2005 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.