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A Special Kind of Love

When my daughter wendy was 4, she was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss. What you and I hear as ordinary conversation she hears as a whisper. Unfortunately, it's not just a simple question of turning up the volume. She loses parts of words entirely, most often initial or final consonants. For at least two years, Wendy had been living in a quiet and confusing world, struggling on her own to fill in those missing sounds. Somehow she taught herself to speak quite clearly, well enough that neither her parents nor her teachers realized what was wrong.

No one knows what damaged Wendy's hearing. Maybe it was a virus, maybe a blow to the head. I've lain awake many nights, wondering whether I could have saved my child from this disability if only I had been smarter, more attentive, more vigilant. Suddenly my husband and I were thrown into a complicated and sometimes maddening world of audiologists, ear specialists, speech pathologists, federal laws on disability. We were confronted with the fragility of hearing aids, which cost as much as $5,000 and can be ruined if you're caught in a sudden downpour. They're designed to be worn by grown-ups who don't do cartwheels or use finger paint.

We weren't alone, of course; when any family has a disabled child  -- particularly one who is seriously impaired, more so than Wendy  -- they find that life has changed irrevocably and forever. The parents' hopes and dreams for their beloved children are altered, as are marriages, careers, friendships, and virtually every aspect of their days.

Gay Daly is a senior editor at Discover magazine.