Monday, March 30, 2009

Voices of Disability: Relentless parents help deaf son build successful life

Sunday, March 15, 2009 2:17 AM EDT

With gentle and proper pushes here and there, Jordan Levin, who was born deaf, is on his way at 32 to a successful and full life.

“I always thought of myself as being normal,” he said in an interview after his father, Martin, wrote and self-published a 152-page book about their lives dealing with a child who was born with a disability.

The book, “We Were Relentless: A Family’s Journey to Overcome Disability” by Martin J. Levin was published by Xlibris. It went on sale Jan. 27 and is available online at, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders.

Martin Levin, an optometrist, and his wife, Mollene, an artist and former teacher, said they helped their son, now 32 and who will be married June 6 to Hillary Fisher, by “trying to take on the burden of what was going on.”

One remarkable thing about Jordan Levin, who graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts in business administration, is he could “naturally read lips,” his mother said.

Jordan, whose speech became understandable to people outside the family when he was 8, is a personal fitness trainer and motivational speaker.

He lives in a condominium in Keego Harbor.

“He has phenomenal comprehension,” Jordan’s mother said. “He can lip read what you’re saying, if you have a toothbrush in your mouth, and understand.”

“We never treated him any different at all,” said Jordan’s father, Martin. “Even when he had limited speech, we put him into situations where he had to take care of himself.”

Jordan communicates by speaking and a trained ear can hear only a slight difference from any hearing person’s speech.

Jordan graduated from Bloomfield Hills Andover.

Martin Levin said he wrote the book because, “I think his story needed to be told.”

“It is unique. Most people with this type of hearing loss do not speak, most sign,” he said referring to those who use American Sign Language to communicate. “He fits into society seamlessly.”

Jordan is a “phenomenal” water skier, snow skier and hockey player, his parents said.

“High school was a great challenge,” Jordan said, “because I had a very hard time learning material for different classes.”

At that time, doctors determined Jordan had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and gave him medication.

“From that point on, I had to learn how to study all over again,” Jordan said.

As for becoming a certified personal trainer, Jordan said it was a natural outcome of his love for sports.

“I love helping people,” he said. “One of the main things is I want to be able to teach people how to be relentless in the pursuit of dreams.

“That’s my main message,” Jordan added.

“When Jordan was younger, we told teachers to not be afraid to tell him that you don’t understand what he said,” Mollene said. “You’re helping him by doing that.”

Martin said he and his wife had to teach Jordan to identify some of the sounds he is able to hear with hearing aids. He is profoundly deaf, meaning he has far less than 30 percent of normal hearing.

When Jordan when he was growing up, “We had to let him know that a sound came from a plane, or a bird and we taught him five new words each day,” Martin said.

“You can’t naturally identify a dog barking or a phone ringing, so we had to teach Jordan what those sounds meant and where they came from,” he said.

Jordan said he loves an iPod because “I can teach myself to hear music” with it.

“It’s great, because I am able to download lyrics to a song,” he added. “I then print out the words and read them. I teach myself the songs,” he said, adding he is a “great dancer.”

“There’s not a lot of parents out there who are willing to work with a disabled child,” Martin said.

Jordan hopes to not only expand his personal training business but also do more motivational speaking.

“Two weeks ago, I spoke at an elementary school. A kid asked me where I’d be if I didn’t learn how to speak. ‘Would you be here today?’ I really couldn’t answer that,” he said.

But Jordan is here today, functioning normally, most likely because of the relentlessness of his parents — in their patience in teaching him something every day of his life and in giving him their unconditional love.

Contact Oakland Press staff writer Jerry Wolffe at (248) 745-4612 or

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