For a Deaf Son

I have mentioned my interest on ASL from the beginning of the blog. Then I started taking the class. It is almost coming to an end. I have now completed one of the biggest assignments for this class, which was a reaction paper to the movie. I also mentioned the movie here on the blog, that caused a little bit of controversy. I will now post my paper and feel free to comment on my opinions, but please inform you in the subject before making any harsh remarks. This time they will not be tolerated.

For a Deaf Son

Reaction Paper


John Guzman

The second session of my ASL class consisted of us watching a movie. I was later informed that we had to write a paper for the class and that it could be done as an opinion paper on the movie For a Deaf Son. The movie depicts 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.

I have to admit that it was a very difficult movie to watch. I am very sensitive when it comes to kids and it was heart wrenching to see Tommy struggle to communicate with his parents. I could see the frustration in his eyes. There were even moments during the movie where Tommy expressed anger and it just made me sick to my stomach.

I think the documentary was very educational in a lot of ways. It opens a little door into deaf culture but not enough to really understand or form a true opinion. It was always in the back of my mind when trying to make up my point of view about how to react to the movie. Would it be important for Tommy to be accepted as part of the Deaf community?

The movie gave me the impression that oralism (advocacy or use of the oral method of teaching the deaf) in a lot of sense overrides deaf culture and it is not accepted by it. Almost like it’s a choice that has to be made if you choose oralism the deaf community says good-bye to you. I felt that for Tommy to be accepted into the deaf community, he would have to learn ASL. To me the best option is both, but the way the choices are presented in the movie illustrate that the ultimate decision makes everything seem mutually exclusive.

While gathering my thoughts on the subject and trying to come up with a reaction paper I started researching the topic. The first thing that came to mind to me was, where is Tommy now, where can I find more information about what happened after the documentary? I felt that I lacked the information to make a judgment. Then I found out about the sad news. Tommy Tranchin was no longer with us. Just this past December he committed suicide. Come to think of it, in a couple of weeks it will be the first anniversary of his death.

I posted on my personal blog (web-log) about Tommy’s death. I could not bring myself to present my opinions regarding the situation, as I still did not know enough information. Some people were quick to respond and blame the parents, which I thought was wrong, but I let the comments go for the sake of free speech. Some people thought that Tommy’s parent’s indecision was the ultimate cause of his decision to end his life. I did not agree with this statement at all. It also brought a lot of positive feedback and eventually some more information about Tommy after the documentary.

For those of you who have amazingly diagnosed his suicide as one cause by his parent’s indecision, I say shame on you. I knew Tommy well, and his parents were ordinary people put in an extraordinary position…and when it came to his happiness and education, they came out on top. Tommy’s death was caused by nothing more than an argument over television watching which began a series of events that led a happy, life loving fifteen year old to accidentally take a scare tactic too far and end up dead. If any of you are attributing this to his deafness and his fight to communicate, I understand why you’d make those connections, but I’m sorry to say that you are wrong. Not to take away from the seriousness of the issues facing parents with a deaf child, but in this case, you’re way off. (Comment by Matthew)

I later received an e-mail from Matthew directly and even thought I cannot confirm nor deny the story, it really made more sense to me that the assumptions that Tommy had just taken his life due to his frustration with communication. Receiving that e-mail gave me some closure, I had been feeling frustrated by the amount of information I was able to obtain.

With a lot more information than what I started with, and more ASL classes under my belt, and after visiting communities for the deaf such as Alldeaf dot com I have finally made up my opinion about the movie.

I feel sorry for Tommy’s parents, who lost their son. Suicide is not an easy thing to deal with because it always leaves many questions unanswered. I dealt with a friend taking his life right before senior year. I remember the feeling of helplessness towards that situation.

I feel the movie is outdated and it really does not present the situation like it should. It is centered on the producer’s point of view and it really does not show all angles. Maybe because the understanding of a subculture is a difficult thing to grasp, but to me the implications of Tommy being accepted by other deaf people or the oral community in general has more importance in the film than the true issue of him not being able to communicate effectively.

I also found it extremely the people pushing the oralism narrow minded. Their opinions that it was a mistake to learn ASL, and that it would hinder any other development for his oral development are incorrect in my opinion. My question, regarding that is this, What if Tommy does not learn to talk- then what? He would spend the next couple of years frustrated by not being able to communicate his needs.

I was very disappointed with the progress from some of the kids that had chosen oralism. I speak English, but just because I do it with an accent I am looked at differently. Just because of the color of my skin people in the past have yelled “What?” before I even speak a word. I feel that when you try to fit into a society by turning your back on your community you lose your stronger allies. In a quest to be accepted by the populous you are losing the community that is so ready to accept you for who you are.


If you are looking for a place to watch the movie, I have found this place. You do have to get an account, but I believe you can stream the movie for free.

30 comments on “For a Deaf Son

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this. I think we live in a very cruel world where we are so quick to judge and react to peope just because they are not what we view as perfect. It is very wrong to do that but everyone does it and I become very angry when I see it happen but I have been guilty of it myself at times.

  2. I agree with your reaction. Why should Tommy be forced into one community and ostracized from the other? Why couldn’t his parents let Tommy learn both oral and sign, thus trusting him to decide which, if any, road to take when he was older.

    I have a communication problem myself, complicated by a severe hearing loss. My own frustrations were mirrored in Tommy’s tears, as I often found it difficult to fully understand others or get my own message across.

    In the end, this should have been Tommy’s choice. It should have been the parent’s responsibility to teach him both ways of communication and leave the ultimate choice to their son.

    I think they felt that they were to blame for Tommy’s condition, and needed to make up for it in some way. However, their approach appeared to lack an understanding of what Tommy was going through, and appeared to lack any real sensitivity of Tommy’s growing frustration because they couldn’t realise that it wasn’t so important how he communicated, just that he had the tools to do so.

  3. hey i was wondering if by chance you could tell me where you got the movie. i also have to watch this movie and write a response paper on it for my asl class, NEED YOUR HELP!!!

  4. i have many friends who were very close with tommy. he was a special kid. he attended my high school and was friends with my brother as well. i never got to know him personally. i met him a couple of times and saw him around.

    thank you for posting this.

  5. Hi,
    I just watched the documentory in my ASL class today, and I can home and looked up his name and the only thing I found was repeated links about the ‘movie’ and one link that said he had killed himself. I was wondering if you knew what happened? I’m supposed to write a paper on the movie…and I was hoping if it is at all possible if maybe you had a bit more info on the situation. Do you know if he learned ASL and oralism? Any help you could give would be appreciated.

  6. Hey,
    I also watched the documentary in an ASL class at OSU today. My teacher explained that he never became fluid in ASL or oralism, which most likely lead to the ending of this tragic story.

  7. I just watch the video for my audiology class. I am working as a behavior specialist now, so I work closely with disable children and their family. It is unfair for any of us to judge the parents’ decision just because we watch a less than an hour long movie of a kid’s short period of life. It is still unclear to me whether of not that Thomas has developed some form of language at the end since he was only five. Moreover, even the parents made the wrong decision to force Thomas to hear instead of ASL, I am sure it doesn’t cause Thomas’s death. The information that I got was Thomas’s death was accidental. He was engaging in auto- asphyxiation which was pretty popular at that time. If it was not tragic enough for his death, it was his mother who found him dead in his room. I could not imagine the sadness and horror his mother felt when she saw her dead son laying on the bad due to some stupid game

  8. For Carol:
    Your comment, “It is still unclear to me whether of not that Thomas has developed some form of language at the end since he was only five.” You’re not a god.

    Whether he had language developmental issue – that’s not the point. The point is that he should be given unlimited option of preferred/comfortable communication method. Let it rest.

  9. I think that we are missing the point of the documentary. In my opinion, as the father said at the first of the movie, this is the story of the struggle of being parents of a deaf child. I believe that the two parents were dealt with such a blow to their lifestyle that it was very difficult to know exactly which way to steer their little family.
    It isn’t easy when you are faced with circumstances beyond your control and not having a direct answer to the questions you have.
    Oralism is not for everyone, and ASL is not for everyone. People who are pushed into the deaf society are bewildered by what they are supposed to be doing.
    Yes, hearing parents want their children to be able to talk and communicate “normally” with the outside world so that MAYBE they aren’t looked at as being different. But ultimately it is the responsibility of the parents to make the decision regarding that particular child for that child. Not for them.
    They go through a grieving process where they want to know what it is they have done wrong, why did it happen to their child, and what can they do to fix it.
    It is a tremendously hard choice to make.
    I am so very sorry for the loss of Tommy. I have watched and re-watched the movie several times. You see, I have two hearing impaired children and my husband and I are hearing.
    In numerous ways we have similar situations that we have to deal with. I am heavy heartened for the mother. She had to deal with so much with so little education of the event.
    I hope that she can let herself realize that sometimes people are too precious for this world.
    I know it doesn’t make it feel any better, nothing will ever be able to replace that missing child.
    I hope one day my opinion will help the mother of that deaf child learn that she is not alone and the emotions that she goes through are absolutely normal.

  10. I’d like to express my condolences to Thomas’s family and friends. I just finished watching the film less than 1 hour ago. I, like so many others, was supposed to see it in ASL class (Level 1 of 3). I, too, must write a paper. I’d like to be able to write a little about his passing, as kind of a memorial to Thomas. It’s unfortunate that he took his own life. He seemed to be getting happier at the end of the film, and the family seemed to be dealing with the issues surrounding his deafness much easier.

    It’s hard to know what to say. I didn’t know Thomas or his family in any way, but I still feel sorrow over his loss. If anyone in the family sees this, know that Thomas has touched the lives of many people, people who didn’t even know him. And, know that he will be missed and not forgotten. The documentary is an incredible memorial of his life and I thank the family for sharing it with the rest of the world.

  11. Wow. I Also Had To Watch This Movie In ASL 1 Class. During the movie we had to write about where we think he would be in 10 years. i wrote that i thought he would be happy signing as well as talking. when we turned our papers in we got an update. the paper said that Thomas commited suicide. that really is not what i expected! i also hope that tommy and his parents’ story can help other parents with deaf or hearing impared children! and i would like to thank the parents of tommy for making this film, i am very sorry for your loss!

  12. I am an audiology student and watched this film for my Counselling class. It is important for both parents and professionals to realize that more information is best but the information has to be provided in a way that parents can use it to make a decision. It is always the parents’ decision to make and it was heartbreaking watching the mother’s pleading for help in making the decision. I believe that parents of deaf children need to belong to a support group so that they can discuss what they’re going through with other parents in the same boat. Hearing parents with a hearing child can’t understand the anguish of the decisions they have to make. There is nothing “bad” about being deaf/Deaf! However, this is a situation that no-one is prepared for unless there is deafness in the family and support is vital for the family to be able to function and move forward.

  13. Hey everyone,
    I watched the film for my ASL class last year, and I just watched it again this year… I had no idea that Thomas commited suicide! My ASL teacher just told me 5 min ago! I am so shocked! That is so sad… I asked my teacher wich choice the parents chose, she said that they went with the oral method.

    If this is true, I think that added to all the problems that Thomas had to go through. I was telling my ASL teacher that if I had a deaf child I would want to raise him/her in the Deaf community. I know I am not Deaf, and I know very few Deaf people… but I have been learning the language for over 4 years now, and I have come to have a deep respect for the language and culture of Deaf people. I can put myself in the situations that they go through, and ask myself “What would I do?” or “how would I feel about that?”

    I have to write a paper for my college comp 1 class, a persuasion essay (did I spell that right?) But I am going to either write it about:

    – Hearing parents not getting their deaf child a cochlear implant


    – Hearing parents not sending their deaf child to mainstream school

    I am still not sure which one I am going to go with… If any of you have suggestions, comments, or help for me you can post a comment on my blog page:

    I feel so sad about what happened to Thomas. I know it wasn’t all the parents fault. This is a difficult situation to face. But I know that if I ever have a deaf child, I will do my best to raise them in the Deaf community, because this way the child will not feel like they are not good enough, or that they are lacking. Please post me a message on my blog page! Thanks!

  14. I have just recently finished watching the move ‘For a Deaf Son’ in my ASL class. I think it is the movie that has made the biggest impact on my life. I was shocked and saddened to learn of his death and I only wish that I could speak with his parents personally to tell them that in no way is this tragedy their fault. I can tell just from the movie that Thomas was probably a great person when he was older and was eager to communicate. I can understand the tough desicion that was set before Thomas’s parents and I know that they only wanted what they thought was best for there son.
    For Tommys parents, family, and friends- I offer my condolences.

  15. I’m very sorry but I just don’t agree with you. He hung himself in a closet with a belt. It was NO scare tactic. It was very intentional. And yes, you are missing the point of the movie. The father released this documentary to show how involved he became in wanting to learn about deaf culture and what kind of school is right for his son. He learned that his son’s happiness and successes in life were his own and not a reflection of his parents. The mother was so judgemental and was so worried what other people would think that she didn’t even give her son’s feelings a second thought. And, as a mother myself, I cannot on earth believe she treated him the way she did. When it was christmas and Tommas wanted a truck, she kept saying T-R-U-C-K.. ok now “TOMMY ,SAY TRUCK”. Good grief, let your son be a kid. Most of the time she spent around him was correcting him and trying to be a therapist not a mother. It was uphauling to see that child try to learn sign with the other family friend and all she cared about was trying to get him to speak. Just in case you didn’t know, ASL IS a language. It has structure and is very valued in the deaf community. If ASL is his natural language then why push him onto English. It’s a waste of time. Eventually they end up learning sign language because it’s what come natural to them. Imagine yourself trying to learna language that isn’t your native tounge; it’s hard isn’t it. And you never will fully master it. Same concept but with delicate, fragile children. All that boy wanted was love and a way to communicate, just not the way “SHE” wanted. So, if you think he commit suicide because of an accident, your delusional. I hope you do a little more studying and ask the deaf community how they feel about that. Just because she was a mother that loved her son doesn’t mean that was a reason not to have dont what he did. I don’t know about you but to this day I am still trying to please my mother. It was a sad thing. You should think about how he felt before writing any more papers.

  16. AND TO ADD!! Please quit calling your children hearing impaired! The correct term is Hard of Hearing or Deaf.

    im⋅paired  –adjective 1. weakened, diminished, or damaged: impaired hearing; to rebuild an impaired bridge.
    2. functioning poorly or inadequately: Consumption of alcohol results in an impaired driver.
    3. deficient or incompetent (usually prec. by an adverb or noun): morally impaired; sports-impaired.
    How would you like to be be called deficient or incompetent..


  17. Settle down Keri, no one was calling deaf people ‘deficient’ or ‘incompetent’ people. It’s their hearing that’s deficient or incompetent. With deaf, their auditory organs aren’t working correctly. Nothing to be ashamed of.

  18. the movie was very good i watched it in asl, I would love to watch it again

  19. I was just about to begin writing my paper about this documentary film and wanted to view some additional information. Your reaction paper was the first. I was already emotional while watching this in our class. I may have been the only one with tears streaming down my face while other students were badgering the mother. I could see both sides of the parents decision making because I am a parent also to a healthy 2 year old son. All I could think about was my son and how as parents would we have reacted and handled the situation. My husband and I can some times have very different opinions therefore I could see us going through a lot of the same emotions and arguments that Thomas’s parents went through. My heart broke after reading this reaction paper because it was the first time I was made aware of Thomas’s death. I felt like I had some small connection with Thomas then to hear about his tragic death was just heartbreaking. As I went to bed last night, I was just telling my husband about this documentary. We were discussing how fortunate we are with our son and all that he has accomplished within his first two years of life. I worry 24 hours a day about my son. I never knew how much having your own children would affect every aspect of your life. As I write my paper on this documentary, I won’t be able to stop thinking about his tragic death. I wish this wasn’t how the story ended. I was hoping to research some uplifting transformations that Thomas may have made throughout his life. I will still do some additional research on any changes that he may have made until his death and also on how the family are. My heart truly goes out to this wonderful mother, father, and brother. I pray they have found peace with his death and that they have been able to move on. Thank you for posting your research. -Holly-

  20. My condolences to the Tranchin Family. I hope they have had some closure and hopefully are able to begin to heal.

  21. I recently learned seven months ago that my precious 2 year old is deaf. I am so proud of my son, his deafness and the beautiful way he talks with his hands. I have had drs and family pressure me onto implants. Allowing him to use his voice. This was the most difficult choice I have ever had to make. I feel for these parents because we only want what’s best for our children. I have found that it is easiest to accept my son is deaf. And appreciate the amazing person he is. After just seven months my son and I are quite fluint in sign and I am very proud. His vocabulary is right on target with sign. He does have language therapy once a week to learn to use his implants. We will continue with it as long as he enjoys it. We take it day by day and ultimately it’s his choice As to which language to use most. But he will be bilingual until he is ready to make the choice. Every day I look at him and hope Im making the right choice.

  22. Keri – where are you getting your information? You appear to know a great deal about the motivations behind the Tranchin family members.


  23. I am taking ASL my teacher is Deaf and I have been envolved in the deaf community. We all talked about the parents. my professor eve.ven came in contact with the parents, they never supported sign language, they never told him that it was ok that he couldn’t speek. they never want to sacrifice for him . something that the deaf community pointed out was that in document the mother kept saying she wants it to be tommies choice on what he wants to do when he is able to choose but he did choose. when the lady was brought in, in the documentary and they were all learning words in sign and he was doing the lion, the mother started speaking and he put his hand over her mouth. he didn’t want to speak he wanted to sign. The deaf community says over and over again that its not that oral language is too hard its not their language. why would they do something that is only 37 % effective. its like living in Mexico and your forced to speak to French, why would you do that you, cant understand French. I do so much research on children and deaf and culture anthropology and yes if you don’t teach a child how to communicate and then shame them because the child has an impairment you are killing that child. The parents did have a huge effect on his life and it wasn’t a positive one. I tried to be understanding but once that I learned that the parents never tried to learn sign and then he killed himself. no way will I gave any compassion to them any more.

  24. Christina – I’m sorry to inform you that you are horribly mistaken. I’m not sure who your professor is, but to suggest that Tommy’s parents “never supported sign language, never told him it was ok that he couldn’t speak” is wildly off. The entire family took sign language classes for years, even reserving several occasions (dinners, family-outings, etc) to practice and hone their abilities. So to say they never tried to learn sign language is blatant lie and your teacher should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating that horrible myth, most likely created to support the outrageous theory that Tommy killed himself because of his parent’s rejection of who he was. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to learn who that person is….because your prof clearly never met them.

    And to say that “they never want to sacrifice for him” (excuse my grammar, but i’m forced to quote with what i have to work with) is a tremendously strong – not to mention malicious – statement coming from a complete stranger whose only understanding of a tragic situation is from (misinformed) second-hand sources. Not only was Tommy enrolled in Stonewall Jackson for years (where he and his family were taught sign language), but the decision to “mainstream” Tommy in the Highland Park School District – one the strongest public academic institutions in Texas, which provided him with an interpreter for all of his classes – was ultimately an environment in which he thrived. He was not isolated by his deafness – he had countless friends, even a few girlfriends. Tommy was not completely deaf – his language, while certainly not as strong as his hearing counterparts, was strong and expressive. He was an extraordinarily happy kid, who unfortunately passed away after engaging in the Choking Game (, a foolish activity that results in dozens of teenagers dying every year. It wasn’t a suicide, tho i recognize there are far too many who’d like to label it as such in order to support their particular politics and beliefs.

    Do the world a favor and stop using one family’s tragedy as propaganda to support your preconceived beliefs. You don’t know what happened. And you have no right to project your own insecurities or anger on a situation that brings about so much pain.

    Stop using Tommy as a martyr for your cause – he deserves more than that.

  25. I also had to watch this movie for ASL class…I can relate being a parent of a hard of hearing child when it come to making decisions about education. I got lucky because in my area we have a total communication school for the deaf that include all communication sign, speaking,vision,etc. When I learned about his death after the movies I wanted to take everything into acount for example him being a teen so there could of been other issues he could of been dealing with, I don’t know at that point what his communication skill were like, and could it have something to do with the decision of his parents. All I know I will hate to be judge(which normally happen to parent in these situation that’s probably why it’s so hard to make the “right ” decision) all u can do is correct your mistakes if u find that it was a bad decision and hope it’s not to late.

  26. Even though it been so long since Tommy has past away, I just wanted to say I am sorry. No one is probably going to be reading this, but I want put this out there. At least Tommy is In a better place

  27. I first saw this movie in 2008 (see my comment above). It was a tragic situation and it is unfortunate that people with such little knowledge of the circumstances still judge. It is best to do what is right now, rather than judge what may or may not have happened years ago. I too wish Tommy and his family peace.

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