Valerie James Abbott ’93 panicked when she learned that her two-year-old daughter Bridget mysteriously lost her hearing. More than ten years later, she is out with a new book about her experience with the aim of supporting families on a similar journey.
Published by KWE Publishing on May 4, Padapillo is an illustrated children’s storybook, offering hope and information to families experiencing early childhood hearing loss. “I understand first-hand what happens to children if their hearing loss goes unidentified,” Abbott said. “We didn’t notice the signs and now I am passionate about helping other parents in a similar situation. As a parent-champion for early hearing detection and intervention, I have talked to many families who are desperate for answers, advice, information, and emotional support just like I was.”
Children who acquire hearing loss after birth are at risk of developmental delays. As most parents, Abbott wanted to do everything she could for her child, but found it very difficult to navigate the situation and locate the right information and resources. As her daughter grew up, her needs also changed. Abbott continuously learned about hearing loss, language acquisition and choices, and disability rights, and connected with other families.
“I wrote the book with all these things in mind. I want parents to have a relatable story to help them see that their questions, doubts, and worries are normal, including feelings of guilt, grieving, acceptance, and joy. I also wanted to create a starting place of practical resources, so there’s an index of organizations and agencies at the back of the book.”
Padapillo is named after one of the many words Abbott’s daughter invented before her hearing loss was identified and before she received hearing aids. It was a speech delay that prompted their daughter’s preschool teacher to suspect something was going on.
“I wrote Padapillo hoping that audiologists could have a stack in their drawers and hand it out to families along with the final audiogram results,” Abbott explained. “This would open up communication and at the same time provide a story of hope and a resource tool.”
Bridget is now 15 and thriving. The two years following her identification were challenging, as she worked hard to catch up developmentally to her peers, but having received a correct diagnosis, early intervention support, and focused support from her family, she’s done well in a mainstream classroom setting and in daily life.
“My message to everyone who is going through the same experience as I did is that there is hope. Your child is capable of amazing things. Whatever your feelings are, they are valid and it’s okay to be pushy to get the information and support you need,” Abbott said.
Padapillo is written through the lens of Valerie’s oldest child Mary Clare, who was in kindergarten when her little sister received her first pair of hearing aids. In the book, the older sibling sees and hears everything that is going on with Bridget – much more so than the parents.
“The book is fictional, but based on our true story of how we discovered and came to terms with Bridget’s situation and our feelings about it,” Abbott stated. “Every single nugget and situation in there is true, from how I started ‘testing’ Bridget’s hearing after the hearing test to see if this was really true, to watching her reactions as she started hearing the new sounds around her for the first time.”
Abbott has served on the board of Virginia Hands & Voices, is the first parent co-chair of the Virginia EHDI Advisory Committee, and has received the Governor’s Award for Civilian Excellence for Virginia Fire Safety, spearheading special programming for families of children who are deaf and hard of hearing. She is a guest blogger for the Center for Family Involvement and has published several articles online and in print about raising a child with a disability that have gained nationwide attention. Padapillo is her first book.
On Thursday, May 20, Hollins’ alumnae chapter in Richmond, Virginia, will present a virtual reading and conversation with Abbott at 7 p.m. EDT. Register for this event.