Vernon Keller Dean

The stroke had left him unable
to speak or understand.
How could his daughter help him?

Prisoner of Silence

By Geeta Dardick

     "You have permission to leave      Dean farmed 80 acres just outside
school immediately," Barbara Dean's of Ashland. As youngster Barbara
teacher told her. The slender, had perched on his lap and helped
brown haired 13-year-old rushed steer the tractor as he plowed his
outside. "Daddy's had a stroke, fields. He taught her to saw wood
her sister Sherry, 17 said . so she could build her own tree
Barbara's mind was numb as she house. Once when tornadoes
climbed into the car that bright threatened, she had clung to his
April day in 1963. It was a 30- callused hand and felt safe.
minute drive to the hospital in Now, when Barbara saw her
Lincoln Neb. All the way, she was father in his hospital bed, he was
choked with memories of her father. like a stranger. Paralyzed on his
A rugged, big-muscled man, Vernon right side, he looked frightened
and vulnerable.  When Barbara tried     occasional "yeah" and "no".
to hug him there was no response. "There has to be something we
After three months in the can do to help him speak again!"
hospital, Vernon, age 48, returned Barbara insisted. But as the
home--but he was no better. X-rays months, then years, passed, Vernon
showed extensive damage to the left Dean remained in a prison of
side of his brain. A perforated silence.
artery had caused aphasia--the By May 1973, Barbara and her
inability to speak or to understand parents were living in Lincoln.
words. He spent his days staring She had married William Crosbry, a
vacantly at TV, unable to carpenter, and had a three-year-old
understand what he was hearing, daughter, Jennifer. Still hoping
unable to communicate except for an her father could recover his
speech, Barbara spent her spare         showed that the right side of the
time at the library, poring through brain has some degree of simple
books on language development. "If reasoning ability. This ability
I can learn enough about the role remains unexpressed, however,
of the brain in speech development, because the speech centers are
" she told her mother, Mabel, "I located in the left side.
might find the key to bring Daddy Barbara remembered the doctor
back." saying that her father's left brain
One day Barbara discovered a was severely damaged, not the
six-year-old Scientific American right. If his right brain is
article written by neuroscientist functioning, she thought, he can
Michael Gazzaniga, now at Dartmouth still reason to some extent. He
Medical School. His research just can't communicate his thoughts
through speech.  But maybe he can       With magic markers, she drew a
communicate some other way. chair, a rough picture of Vernon's
A year after Vernon's stroke, face a finger pointing, a cup, a
when the family car had broken table, a picture of her own face
down, he had grabbed a pencil with smiling.
his left had and made a rough The next morning, armed with
sketch. Now it hit her. He was the cards, Barbara entered her
trying to show the car's problem. parents' kitchen. "Okay, Daddy,"
Of course! Barbara thought. He can she said, "we're going to try
communicate with drawings. something new." She put three of
She rushed home, pulled out a the pictures- the Vernon card, the
large sheet of poster board and cut pointing finger, then the cup--in
it into three-by-three inch cards. front of him. Vernon looked at the
cards and pointed to a coffee cup on    placed the Vernon card on the
the table. table, followed by the eating card
Excited, Barbara replaced the and the, hamburger card. Taking
cup card with the chair card. the cue, Barbara drove her father
Vernon looked at the drawing and to a fast-food restaurant. "Yeah,
pointed to a dining-room chair. yeah!" he said when they arrived.
"Yeah!" he said nodding his head Each time Vernon put together
vigorously. "Yeah!" a sentence, Barbara read it back to
Barbara made more cards and him. While her father couldn't
spent hours working with her understand spoken language, a
father. Two weeks later, he began sentence from Gazzaniga's article
putting together his own three-word kept popping into Barbara's mind:
sentences. Before lunch one day he "The possibility that the right
hemisphere has some speech              pen and, struggling sketched a
capabilities cannot be ruled out." picture of a cup. Vernon studied
Barbara felt certain that someday the drawing a moment and started
her father would speak again. laughing and nodding eagerly.
Eloquent Words. Barbara He then drew a rectangular
started a new phase of training for shape and added two circles for
her father. She arranged three wheels. "That's a car," Barbara
cards on a table in front of him. said. "C...A...R." Barbara wrote
One was a card with his face, the the letters on the picture. Vernon
next showed a hand holding a pen, nodded.
and the third a cup. As weeks passed, Barbara
Vernon caught on instantly. started seeing a change in her
With his left hand, he picked up a father's personality. There was a
new alertness, determination and             One evening in 1977 he mother
hope. Barbara and Mabel began called. "You'll never believe
labeling each new picture he drew this," Mabel said, "but your father
and pronouncing the word carefully. has started speaking! He is
Vernon filled a notebook and learning to say the words in his
started a second and a third. notebooks."
1n 1975, Barbara moved to Barbara caught the firs flight
California. She hated leaving her back to Lincoln and found her
father. But she and her husband father transformed. "Amazing!" he
had separated three years before said a big smile on his face.
and he had moved to North San Juan. "Amazing!"
Barbara felt Jennifer should be Tears flooded down Barbara's
near him. cheeks. "Daddy," she whispered
"that is the most eloquent word         gave her father a set of watercolor
I've ever heard." pens. The next time she returned
Vernon scooped up his to Lincoln, he showed her dozens of
notebooks. He pointed to a detailed pictures that he had
picture, "Bread." he sad, haltingly painted with his left hand.
but clearly. "Jelly. Peanut "Daddy," Barbara said, "you must be
Butter." very proud!"
"How did you learn so many "Proud... of," he
words!" Barbara exclaimed, as she answered softly.
hugged and kissed her father. Soon Vernon was confident
"Yeah, yeah," Vernon answered. enough to ride the bus alone and
House. Dog. Ice cream." shop for Mabel. When Barbara added
For Christmas 1982 Barbara up his spoken vocabulary she counted
700 words.                              pictures on the screen--just  as
Dreaded News. Meanwhile, back her father had pointed to the
in North San Jaun, Barbara had pictures on the cards. She also
started working with personal wanted her software to include a
computers. "You know," she told speech synthesizer that would talk
her new husband, Michael Schacker, in a natural-sounding voice. This
a musician, "with a computer would duplicate how Barbara and her
program I could help others like mother had talked to Vernon
Daddy." labeling his pictures and providing
Barbara knew her language encouragement.
software should include the new When Barbara visited her
"TouchWindow" technology. That father in spring 1984, his health
way, students could point to was failing. At the end of a TV
show about terminal cancer              businessman whose uncle had
patients, Vernon pointed to himself suffered a stroke and could no
and said, "Die." longer speak. "Your software could
"Do you think you will die help my uncle," he said.
soon, Daddy?" Barbara asked. "Is With funds from this man and
that what you're saying?" others, Barbara and Michael bought
"Yeah," Vernon replied "Okay." a computer system and set up their
On the plane back to software company, Creative
California, Barbara prayed for help Learning, Inc. They found five
in getting her software company off programmers willing to work in
the ground before something their spare time with out pay, for
happened to her father. A few days a later share in the proceeds.
later friends introduced her to a Then came the news that
Barbara had been dreading.  In          frustrating work, but Barbara and
August 1984, her father died of a Michael finally completed 30
heart attack. Barbara was reading, writing and math programs
devastated. called the Multisensory Curriculum.
After the funeral, she looked Barbara had drawn all 696 visuals
at her father's notebooks--his first for the system.
awkward efforts to communicate, Now came the biggest
then a month-by-month record of challenge--selling the program. At
accomplishment. She vowed to do first orders trickled in. But then
whatever it took to produce as word spread orders and glowing
computer software that would help reports began pouring in.
others as she helped her father. Low Expectations. In 1973
It took five years of slow, Benjy Frederickson was born with
cerebral palsy.  "You'll need to        communicated only in monosyllables.
send him to a special school for His teacher felt he would never be
retarded people" the doctors told able to read or write; he spent
his parents. school days washing counter tops.
The Frederickson's, of Penn Angered at the schools low
Valley, Calif., did as the doctor expectations for her son, Sandy
suggested, but they soon wondered Frederickson enrolled him in a
how much Benjy was benefiting. As program that used the Multisensory
years passed, they saw their Curriculum. When Benjy sat in
joyous, cooing infant develop into front of the computer for the first
a silent child unable to express time, his face lit up with a
feelings or needs. At age 15 Benjy lopsided grin as pictures of
was a lanky teen-ager who cheese, chicken, fish and bread
flashed on the screen.                       Then slowly imitating the computer
"Find the cheese," said the voice, Benjy repeated, "He looks at
computer's female voice. Benjy the lion." It was the first
touched the cheese on the screen. sentence he had ever uttered.
"Cheese," the voice said slowly and Sandy Frederickson sent a note
clearly. "Very good!" Benjy to Barbara and Michael Schacker:
clapped his hands. For the next "You've given us hope for Benjy's
two hours, he continued with lesson future."
after lesson. On the instructor's manual of
Within three weeks, Benjy put Barbara's computer programs is a
together a sentence, while the simple dedication: To my father,
computer read back to him: Vernon Keller Dean, for his courage
"" and will to succeed against all odds.

     "It is because of him that
others like Benjy are finding their
way back to the talking world,"
says Barbara "Daddy would be so



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