An MDC Patient Reflects on “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman was brought to the attention of the world on January 20th when she recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb“ at the presidential inauguration. She is the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, a title awarded in 2017. 

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” 

Amanda Gorman

According to her mother, Amanda is inquisitive, an overachiever, has a strong sense of justice and empathy for others, and is currently studying at Harvard University. 

Amanda was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder (APD), making it difficult to hear small differences in sound and interpret speech clearly, and with a speech articulation disorder, making it difficult for her to pronounce certain words. 

At the Marion Downs Center, we know these challenges well and provide diagnosis, treatment and support for individuals impacted. 

Lauren Puryear receives services at the MDC and Amanda is quite the inspiration to her. Not only are they both challenges with APD, but they share a love of learning and poetry. Lauren took the opportunity to share her experience with hearing loss and communication challenges.

Lauren Puryear at Carnegie Hall in 2018 with a National Best in Grade Award for her poem, ” Corroded Heart” (Read full article here)

Listening Challenges

I have a hearing impairment with unilateral hearing loss in my right ear, and as a result, I often have a lot of trouble with auditory comprehension. Without captioning or repetition, it can be really difficult for me to understand what other people are saying, especially if they’re not speaking clearly or there’s background noise. Oftentimes, I have to dedicate all my focus to deciphering what people are saying instead of talking or thinking about what I’m going to say next, which makes it really hard to engage in conversation. In the pandemic particularly, speaking in person is virtually impossible. I’ve always relied heavily on lipreading, something I didn’t really realize until early this year when we started masking and distancing. These listening challenges have made me feel offbeat and out of rhythm with the rest of the world. I don’t catch the joke because I’m still trying to figure out what they said three sentences ago, or people give up on talking to me altogether.

Strategies Used for Improved Understanding

Any additional information helps. Reading lips and facial expressions is the strategy I use most often, but clear enunciation and rhythm or tonal inflection are all really helpful to me too. Hand gestures are particularly helpful; they place emphasis on certain words, and depending on the gesture, can help elucidate the meaning of a sentence. Gorman’s use of hand gestures and tone to punctuate her poetry was one of the things I loved about her speech. It grounded me in her story and allowed me to connect with it in a dimension I’m so often unable to.

The Importance of Poetry

To me, storytelling has always been like magic. In writing, poets and authors can arrest microcosms in black and white type, making paper shadows dance and breathe within the pages. Poetry is all about capturing tension, the ebb and flow of life’s rhythms, the nadirs and crescendos. When you write poetry, it’s like holding a heartbeat in your hands. The unique ability of poetry to feel that pulse has always mesmerized me. My listening challenges have sometimes disconnected me from the world outside and limited my scope of experience. But in poetry, I can listen to birdsong in perfect clarity, hear the twilit neon hum of the city. Through writing, I reconnect with life’s cadences.

Amanda Gorman as a Source of Inspiration

Seeing someone who has struggled with the same things I have and who became enamored with writing for the same reasons I have was incredibly powerful. To see her recite that poem in the U.S. Capitol was everything I could have dreamed of. In her voice and her vision, I heard and saw my own. Knowing that her words had touched the nation, to quote Gorman, reminded me of “the power of your inner voice over that which people might hear with their ears” and that my only limitations are the horizons of my dreams.

Thank you to Lauren Puryear for sharing her experiences and perspectives with the Marion Downs Center!

To watch Amanda Gorman’s speech in your preferred mode of access, visit https://bideninaugural.org/accessibility/

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