R.I.P. Tommy

Today I was planning on writing about my ASL class, more specifically I wanted to write about my reaction to a movie that I watched in the class. The movie is called “For a Deaf Son.” it is distributed by PBS and if you are interested on seeing it e-mail me, I will tell you how. Here is a synopsis of the movie.

Annotation The life of four-year-old Thomas Tranchin, born deaf to a hearing family, and the struggle of the producer/director to unlock Thomas’ speech capacities is documented through home video of therapy sessions, classrooms, and workshops. Their struggle in the decision of whether to educate Thomas in sign language versus strictly verbal speech is also documented. Therapists and other families with deaf children are also interviewed. 1/2″ VHS

I have many opinions on the movie, but I am not going to talk about the today, because I am sad to say that Tommy is not with us anymore. I offer condolences to Rob and Laurie Tranchin and their family as they mourn for their son, Thomas , age 15, who died December 9 2003.

The article from where I found the news was originally posted at thetactilemind.com, but the site has since changed.

The movie is touching to say the least. It is very moving, or at least it was to me. I cannot begin to comprehend what it will mean to a deaf person. For now all I wasn to say is Tommy, R.I.P.


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  1. billydac


    We also watched this as an assignment for a class. I am curious as to what Mr. Tranchin emailed to your teacher-what were the decisions made about Thomas’ education and how did he fare? What was it that you were hoping to hear and why were you disappointed?

  2. DON”T blame on COMMUNICATE either speak or sign. I m DEAF and my dad does not sign but my mom does. I don’t blame on communicate itself. I don’t blame my parents for communicate issues? I think it is something else that Tommy killed himself for a good reason?.. BUT STILL sad that he dies so young. I need to see that movie and I might say different comments?

  3. michelle

    somebody wrote that they were glad their children were born healthy, well, Tommy was deaf, he didn’t have an illness, and as soon as us pompus hearing people get off our high horse and realize that, the better the deaf community will be.

  4. Jenna Bo Benna

    Redneck Hick: I totally thought the same thing. I can’t believe they didn’t realize how their reasoning could have been reversed!

    That being said, I know I am about five years behind the times, but when we watched this in my ASL class, I wanted to know more about Tommy’s death (which our professor told us about after the film, so as not to cloud our judgment before), and I stumbled across this blog.

    While I did not see Jen the B****’s actual comments, I will admit (albeit quite guiltily) that I wondered whether he was depressed due to a communication barrier. I did not blame his parents in any way, I just wondered. I am glad that some people closer to the situation have commented here and cleared some things up. Our prof did tell us that it was an accidental suicide, but I kind of forgot that fact until I saw that again above. It is truly a tragedy that Tommy is no longer with us and I would like to extend my condolences to those who knew him or his family.

    Now, to the actual video. I was livid with Rebecca due to her rejection of ASL and Deaf culture; however, the blame cannot be placed on her or her husband. The real problem was that they were being told left and right that the oral method was the best method. I will not purport to be an expert on Deaf education, but I think it IS safe to say that our education system is failing kids across the nation, ESPECIALLY deaf children. The unfortunate truth is that there is not a one-size-fits-all system that works for all deaf OR hearing children. While the oral method may be ideal for one child, ASL may suit another child, and the combined method may suit another. Luckily, we have come a long way in the twenty years since this video was made, and everyone is a little more knowledgable about different approaches to Deaf education and their merits. I am glad to hear that Tommy’s parents ultimately decided to teach him ASL and to also learn it themselves so that they can better communicate with each other, and I hope that they also had success with teaching Tommy speech once he developed his language skills.


  5. Janice

    I had just finished watching the movie for a ASL Culture class. I was horrified with everything I had seen and angry. As a hearing person who I am a proud advocate for the Deaf Culture. This film disgusted me. This man took all this time to make this film seeing all the potential in having your child in a Deaf School right in front of his face, all the answers to his problems right there and for what? Nothing!

    To his wife which I hope follows these stories, she should be ashamed to call herself a mother, and the letting the son bring his brother to the classroom like a toy to talk about and mock his deafness. How dare they do this. I am so angry if I ever met this woman in real life I would of told her to get her tubes tied before she had any child at all! That boy deserved better, he had no choice and his parents kept forcing oralism. Enough to make me sick!

    Maybe if the hearing world wasn’t so blind they could see all the wonderful things about Deaf life, culture, values, but no their minds aren’t open. Maybe with all the doctor visits they should of got their vision checked on.

    That boy deserved a better life and now he is dead. They have to live with that pain everyday and I hope they know the reason why. Thanks for shielding the identity Thomas deserved..


  6. Oliver Twist

    I came across this blog when browsing about ‘For a Deaf Son’. I was deeply shocked and saddened to learn about Thomas. I had hoped to reconnect with Rob Tranchin and his family as to see what had transpired since our last encounter in 1996.

    Let me contribute some more information here even though the discussion seems to taper off now.

    In 1994, I was one of several people invited to participate in the meeting with the executive producer, Rob Tranchin, and his team at PBS KERA to discuss about how to complete his film, ‘For a Deaf Son’, prior to its release. I suggested leaving the film ‘unfinished’ as to convey that it was ‘work in progress’ since Rob and his wife, Laurie, were starting to learn sign language and communicating with Thomas in sign language. I also suggested that they do the sequel at later date perhaps ten years later when Thomas grew older and became more autonomous in his life and decisions.

    I had discussed with Thomas’s mother, Laurie, several times in 1995 and 1996 about her fear for Thomas and about her desire for the best in raising Thomas. She realised that I was more interested in focusing what they can do as to make things positive for everyone concerned rather than scolding or belittling her about her past decisions. That opened her up more and encouraged her to be candid about her feelings.

    I helped them communicate with each other in sign language and encouraged both to have the effective communication with each other. It was joy to sign with Thomas because I remembered Thomas as high strung and intensely frustrated boy prior to learning sign language. I could see myself in him when I was his age. Thomas turned out to be mischievous and a prankster as he grew older. We had lot of funny moments together at the gatherings and parties.

    A side note: Laurie was saddened about me moving to Denver, Colorado in 1996 because she wanted me to stay on and helped them further. After learning about Thomas recently, I kept wondering whether staying in Dallas longer would make any difference for them later on or not.

    I admit that the film still haunted me to this day because I lived in that film, too, as one of two deaf sons in the hearing family (our deafness is congential of unkown aetiology). We are Germans, and archaic German approach to the deafness was oralism and denying the deafness. My mum didn’t learn sign language until later on (both American and German sign languages). My father didn’t learn sign language to his regret. My mum had accepted her mistakes about schooling and about her decisions in raising us. Today, my parents and I have excellent relationship even though it was hard work for a several years.

  7. Carol

    I showed For a Deaf Son for years as a vhs tape but once it wore out, I’ve not been able to locate another copy. I’d love to have it on DVD but will settle for vhs. Any idea where I can find a copy now?

  8. Georgia


    How deeply ironic that someone as compassionless and angry as you seem to be finds it appropriate to be self-righteous. This family has lost their boy. Advocate for the deaf community or not, you should be truly ashamed of yourself and your vengeful thought process. You are entitled to your opinion, but if this is the way that you think and express yourself, I hope very much that it is you who “gets your tubes tied” before you bequeath this hateful outlook to an innocent child, deaf or not.

  9. lena

    i just watched that video in my ASL class and went to find out how old he was and now i find out that hes dead.

  10. Bubba H

    I have shown the documentary “For A Deaf Son” to my sign language classes since the year it came out. I was Tommy’s music teacher at SJ Elementary for 1st and 2nd grade. He and his buddy Christopher were inseparable. He seemed happy, and laughed a lot. I am in an inner-city high school now, and one of my students stole my video to get back at me for changing her seat in class. I moved her to cut down on the talking. I was looking to see if there was a way to replace it. Anyway, like others here, I was surprised to find out about Tommy’s passing. The world is a little less bright for us now. A drop of sunshine has gone on to be with his creator. Thank you to Rob and Laurie for sharing him with all of us.

  11. John Hendo

    We watched the documentary in my ASL class this afternoon. We were told we could write a summary of the documentary for extra credit. I watched and constantly felt pain for Thomas as his parents discussed what was best for him, and his mother made comments about how she would be a failure if she couldn’t teach him to fit in. With the documentary ending and they hadn’t made a decision about his schooling for the next year, I couldn’t wait to google him and see how it worked out. I was saddened to read that he had passed. 🙁

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