Born Deaf, 11-Year-Old Arrives in D.C. for the National Spelling Bee

Updated May 26.

Neil Maes, an 11-year-old student from South Carolina, who was born deaf and uses bilinear cochlear implants to hear, is in Washington, D.C., to participate in the final rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. On May 24, Maes and his parents were the guests of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at the Volta Bureau, which wanted to help them tell the story of “their challenges and triumphs in their journey with deafness.”

The Maeses could not have included a more appropriate place to visit during their Washington visit. The historic Volta Bureau in Georgetown was built by Alexander Graham Bell as a resource library on hearing and speech. Bell, who invented the telephone, was also a teacher of the deaf. The nonprofit “continues to help people who are deaf and hard of hearing to listen, talk, learn and live in the mainstream,” said AG Bell CEO Emilio Alonso-Mendoza.

Christy Maes, mother of the spelling bee contestant, spoke of the shock of first learning of her son’s deafness. Then the family “regrouped,” she said, and was determined to have their son “meet his full potential and have opportunities.”

Maes, who is a nurse, and whose husband Peter is a former Marine and in the South Carolina Air National Guard, said they have held their son “to high standards — and have never felt sorry. Neil has a sister with hearing loss and one hearing sister.”

Also at the Volta Bureau May 24 was Michael Hoa, M.D., of Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. A professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at G.U. Medical Center, Hoa explained how cochlear implants work.

After several interviews, Maes — a fifth-grader at Belton Elementary School and representing the Anderson Independent Mail — moved on to the main event, the national spelling bee competition at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. He has made it to the early May 26 rounds.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee finals are on ESPN2 and ESPN May 26. The champion will be named that evening.

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