June 2012

Shawn Nelson Schmitt On Deafness

A Conversation About Language and Communication

Believed to be deaf, Shawn Nelson Schmitt didn’t speak until he was nine years old, an experience that has fueled his study of Deaf culture (capitalized to distinguish between people who identify with a Deaf culture and people who have a hearing difference but who do not identify with a Deaf culture) through sociological and psychological lenses. He is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Gallaudet University.

—Catherine Lacey

THE BELIEVER: What was your first language?

SHAWN NELSON SCHMITT: I began acquiring Signing Exact English (SEE) at birth and started formal instruction in spoken and written English at age nine.

BLVR: How did you manage to avoid speaking for so long even though you had the ability to hear? Were you homeschooled before then?

SNS: This occurred because I was misidentified as deaf from birth. My parents were both born with total bilateral hearing loss as a result of a genetic mutation in the connexin 26 gene; while I do not know much about my paternal lineage, I know that my mother was the only deaf child of twelve. I went to a deaf program at a public school until age nine.

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Catherine Lacey has published in Fifty-Two Stories, Cousin Corrinne’s Reminder, Trnsfr, elimae, and elsewhere. She is a founder of a cooperatively owned bed-and-breakfast, 3B. Visit her at catherinelacey.com.

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