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Determination turns deaf teen into honor student, committed volunteer

From: Wilmington Morning Star, NC - Nov 8, 2003


When Julie Bristol was a baby, she would grab the hair on her head behind her ears and pull until her hair came out. She'd point at things, then grunt, hoping her mother would understand her pleas and give her what she wanted.

She was frustrated because she couldn't speak.

Today, the 17-year-old Hunter Huss High School honor student has learned to overcome her inability to hear. Ranked 38th in her class, Julie has plans to attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the prestigious college for the deaf.

But Julie's ongoing efforts to make a difference in her community speak volumes to the hearing world, while giving hope to those who walk in a silent one.

"We didn't know until she was about 2 1/2 that she was deaf - she wasn't speaking," said Dolly Bristol, Julie's mother. "There was a lot of frustration not being able to communicate with her."

Julie's pediatrician told Dolly that Julie was profoundly deaf, her hearing loss consumed both inner ears.

Dolly already had walked a tough road when her daughter was born two months prematurely. When the doctor broke the news about Julie's deafness, Dolly was faced with new difficulties and challenges, including the reality her youngest child would never hear her say "I love you."

Julie began a homeschooling program, led by a certified hearing impaired teacher who would come to their then-home in Florida. But her mother knew by the time Julie was 3 years old she was ready for public school - a school that was "set up to handle hearing impaired children," Dolly said.

The beginning wasn't as hard as Dolly had imagined.

"I admit, I was relieved when I found out she was deaf," Dolly said. "We'd had a lot of problems; it was hard. But knowing made it easy because I knew there was something we could do about it."

When Julie began prekindergarten class at Sherwood Elementary School, it was a big change from the homeschool attention she received. The curriculum moved at a much faster pace, and the teachers had to take their time getting Julie up to speed. But it didn't take long.

"I was a little scared at first, but they got used to me," Julie said, through the help of her interpreter, Sandy Pearson. "Communication was a problem at first with the hearing impaired kids."

Dolly credits Julie's motivation for her learning success.

"She's always been motivated since she was a little girl," Dolly said. "Her preschool teacher said she was so eager to learn, and that I shouldn't hesitate to give it to her - whatever she wanted to learn - and not hold back."

A single mother to Julie and her brother, Dolly knew effectively communicating with her daughter was a necessity, not just a want. They had to be on the same page, Dolly said, and there was only one way to make it happen. Dolly went back to school.

"Julie learned sign language from her homeschool teacher, and I took night classes in Florida," Dolly said. "It didn't take me long to realize that to hang onto it (sign language), you have to use it."

From discussing dinner plans to what happened at school that day, the two now "speak" with fluidity, watching each other's hands as they glide with ease through the air.

Dolly's efforts have paid off over the last 15 years, but she admits it's still somewhat difficult to place herself in her daughter's shoes.

"What's common to deaf people can differ from what people who can hear talk about every day," Dolly said.

For example, Dolly said, Julie had to learn to avoid slamming the microwave door after she was finished warming up a meal. Occasionally, Julie will forget to close it lightly, unaware the noise it makes when closed with too much force causes her mother to jump.

Dolly also worries about her daughter on the road. Julie drives, and her mother has reminded her time and again not to put the passenger window down when she's driving alone.

"She wouldn't know if someone would walk up to the car while she's at a stoplight," Dolly said. "She wouldn't hear them. But she doesn't ever see herself at a disadvantage."

"I know she worries about me," Julie said. "When I was young, it was hard to get along with her, but now that I'm an adult, it's better now. We understand each other."

The relationship is a strong one, better than most kids have with their parents, and with a special relationship comes a special bond, Dolly said.

Julie said there is one benefit of her hearing loss. "I don't have to listen to my mom," she laughed, pointing at Dolly with a wide grin spread across her youthful face.

"Yeah, right," Dolly said. "I always expected the same from Julie as I did from her brother; I can't allow her deafness to interfere with being treated the same way as my son was treated.

"Her deafness was never a problem, but I didn't let it be an excuse," Dolly said.

Outgoing and full of life, Julie participates in swimming and soccer while maintaining a near 4.0 grade point average at Hunter Huss. Attending college is a priority, and she has her hopes set on one of the best universities in the country for the deaf - Gallaudet University.

"Right now, I'm in the process of applying," Julie said. "I hope to get a response in December from them (Gallaudet)."

There are personal goals she wants to achieve - "before I get too old," she said - from skydiving to traveling abroad.

Julie longs to visit Africa, which will give her the opportunity to "see different people in different communities."

While she's still undecided about her professional career, Julie said she's narrowed it down to three possibilities: an English teacher, a marine biologist or a computer programmer.

Through her curriculum at Hunter Huss High School, Julie participates in a credited class called Peer Friends, a deaf mentoring program which gives her the opportunity to visit other schools and offer assistance to other deaf students.

She visits Grier Middle School three days a week, and Forestview High School one day a week.

Julie's interpreter, Sandy Pearson, admires Julie's perseverance and determination to make a difference.

"She's a great influence for the deaf," Pearson said. "She inspires them and encourages other deaf students to achieve their goals."

Julie also speaks to students' teachers, helping them formulate teaching plans and implement alternative methods of learning which may benefit hearing impaired students, Pearson said.

There's also a way for Julie to give back to the hearing world - just one way for her to show her appreciation to those who helped her along the way. For two years, Julie has also been involved in a program at East Belmont Baptist Church held on Tuesday nights, where she helps teach sign language.

The church's secretary, Jennifer Cook, said the program was implemented by Sandy Pearson, who's a member there. Pearson volunteered to lead the program, which is free of charge to anyone who wishes to participate.

"We have several youth that are deaf, so it's been really beneficial to the church," Cook said. "And from what I've seen, Julie seems to get along with everybody and seems work well with all the students."

For Julie, her efforts are nothing special. She said being deaf has given her new insight which helps her ignore people's differences.

"I don't notice them (differences)," Julie said. "As long as people treat me like they want me to treat them, it's cool. Whether they're deaf or not, everyone's the same to me."

Information from: The Gaston Gazette

© 2003



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