Hayden Shock may have just won a competition, but in life, he has already won much more.
The 14-year-old Burke resident has Goldenhar’s Syndrome, a congenital condition that causes significant physical challenges. He is profoundly deaf and has no auditory nerves, meaning he can’t read lips and has no relationship to sounds. He recently won an oratorical — public speaking — contest for the deaf and hard of hearing, sponsored by Optimist International, a nationwide network of youth service clubs. In January, he won the local competition in Alexandria, and he went on to win the regional competition in Richmond in February. The contests were just one more achievement Hayden can add to his resume.
“I just think he’s my hero,” said Mary Ann Shock, Hayden’s mother. “I’m just so proud of the goals he sets for himself.”
Hayden receives A's in school, plays sports, and more importantly, his ability to communicate goes above and beyond what anyone ever expected. Through body language and observations, Hayden knows what’s going on around him. He has an interpreter with him at Robert Frost Middle School throughout the day, but often times he said he doesn’t need one.
“Because I’m growing up more in a hearing world, I socialize more with hearing people,” said Hayden, via his mother interpreting his sign language. “I have fun with everybody.”
Hayden attends Frost Middle for that very reason. He wants to challenge himself and continue to socialize with those around him. While he said he works hard on his academics, he hasn’t gotten a C since the fifth grade. “It’s not without a lot of work,” said Mary Ann Shock.
“I want to prove you can be deaf and go to public school,” said Hayden.
IN THE LOCAL and district oratorical competition, sponsored by the Optimist Club of Alexandria, Hayden had to present a prepared speech about his biggest challenge in life. He used American Sign Language, or ASL, to talk about a challenge far bigger than his lack of hearing. He has scoliosis, a curving of the spine, and it has created a roadblock in front of his greatest love in life: football.
“When the doctor told me I couldn’t play contact sports anymore, I was so disappointed,” said Hayden. “It hurt my feelings; I will never forget that day.”
But Hayden stayed true to his determined character. He switched to flag football, and he also helps out with the Lake Braddock varsity team, on which his brother, Emery, also plays. The Lake Braddock coaches know how much Hayden loves the sport, said Mary Ann Shock, so they worked to find a position he could play. He started practicing kicks, since kickers are usually not the target of tackles in football games.
“Man, it’s good,” said Hayden. “I have to practice [kicking] more, though.”
Last fall, Hayden played i9 sports, a Fairfax County branch of a national youth sports league, offering flag football, cheerleading, soccer and basketball. Hayden’s football teammates learned a few signs that represented different plays. He laughed when he said they “stunk with signing,” but ultimately, it worked. He noticed he had at least one major advantage over the other players though: his focus.
“I stay so focused with the ball because I’m not distracted by the sounds,” he said.
Hayden is focused, but he doesn’t get to hear the sound of helmets clanking together during a tackle. He can only imagine what it sounds like. What he can hear, though, are sounds of success.
“If the [Pittsburgh] Steelers don’t want me, I’ll always be a loyal fan,” said Hayden.
THE SHOCKS ARE a large family. Hayden has five siblings, ranging in age from 10 to 16. Madison, Austin and Logan are 10-year-old triplets. His sister, Meredith, is 12, and his brother, Emery, is 16. Their house is busier than a florist shop on Valentine’s Day.
Every family member knows American Sign Language. Hayden might not hear the chaos of eight people always on the move, but he does participate in the family’s conversations. If Hayden is in the room, they sign to each other even when they are not talking directly to him. They are just another American bilingual family.
“We don’t see it as handicapped,” said Mary Ann Shock. “We see it as a different language.”
When Hayden was a baby, Mary Ann and Ed Shock asked deaf adults if they wished their parents would have done something differently. They could not believe how many said they wished their parents would have learned ASL, said Mary Ann Shock. They also could not believe that so many parents never bothered to learn how to communicate with their children.
“Our goal as parents was to keep one step ahead of Hayden,” said Mary Ann Shock. “Hearing parents [who don’t know ASL] don’t know their children. It’s his right to have his parents sign to him.”
Hayden has met children his age in the same situation. At the oratorical competitions, other children gave their speeches about the challenges they face because their parents don’t sign with them. He said those children are the ones that do not do well in school. “I blame the mom and dad,” said Hayden.
“Honestly, they're flunking school,” he said. “If you don’t have help at home, you depend on the teachers, and then you get home and have nothing.”
Hayden’s triplet siblings even brought a bit of their home to their school’s talent show at Ravensworth Elementary. The children performed a song together in ASL, and the performance became a big hit at the school.
“Ever since we did our talent show, the students created an ASL club,” said Madison Shock, 10.
Frost Middle, Hayden’s school, is one of five Fairfax County schools with programs for students with hearing impairments, and it is the only middle school. Hayden has an ASL interpreter with him throughout the day. All of his classes are with hearing children, except for his English class, since it is a sound-based language, he said.
"All the words in English do not have signs, so he has to work with teachers and interpreters to know all the English vocabulary that will be taught in class," said Roberta Relich, Frost Middle's deaf and hard of hearing department chair.
Hayden said the interpreter sometimes helps him communicate with his hearing friends, but often times he communicates with his body language or by writing notes. His best friend, Hamza, is hearing impaired but can still hear, so he often helps Hayden communicate too.
"Hayden is your typical middle school student; [he] loves sports, girls and the social scene of middle school," said Relich.
Since Hayden’s father, Ed Shock, is a colonel in the United States Air Force, the family has moved around a lot. Mary Ann Shock said she and her husband have seen the benefits of all the moves for Hayden. It has helped him socialize more, and he is also seen the differences in the public school systems. Fairfax County ranks among his best for hearing-impaired students, he said.
As Hayden approaches high school, he continues to build his resume for college. He wants to go to Pennsylvania State University, and afterwards he sees a career for himself in the National Football League. Just in case that does not work out, though, he has a few back-up plans.
“I’d like to be a teacher or a coach; maybe even an emergency room doctor or a paramedic,” he said. “For sure I want to get married and have kids.”