AUSTIN - Jeffrey Mota, 12, has been learning to talk for the first time.
But it's not an easy task after an entire life of silence.
KVUE first met the Deer Park Middle School sixth-grader in 2016 when his father was trying to fulfill his late wife's dying wish of getting cochlear implants for Jeffrey. We've been by their side ever since.
Jeffrey has been undergoing speech therapy since his cochlear implants were turned on in January. Given what Jeffrey has been through, his speech pathologists said it is going as well as can be expected,
Think of it this way, most of us start hearing when we're babies. Jeffrey started hearing at the age of 11, making his listening age less than a year old. His brain is now working overtime to rewire itself to use sound again after it had already gotten used to not relying on it at all.
"That means his brain is trying to process this input for the first time which is difficult for him because his brain has rewired itself to visual because he takes in information visually," said Katie Barnett.
Barnett is a speech pathologist with the Round Rock Independent School District.
When she first met Jeffrey, he was nine-years-old and in the third grade. That's when he first started school in the U.S.
"He didn't have a word to explain what he was thinking or feeling or seeing," said Barnett.
To understand why Jeffrey is behind, we have to explain his childhood.
Jeffrey didn't arrive in the US until 2014 after Joel and Rosie Mota adopted him. He was an orphan, abandoned at a subway station in China. The couple saved money for Jeffrey's cochlear implant surgery, but unexpectedly, Rosie's breast cancer returned. She died last year.
Two months later we met Joel when he was trying to raise money to get Jeffrey the cochlear implants.
We were there as Jeffrey got the implant surgery a year ago and again as the implants were activated in January.
His father, Joel, said the therapy has made a world of difference.
"It makes life so much easier for him -- so much easier for me just to be able to have a conversation. We go to a restaurant, I don't have to order for him anymore. He can read the menu now and he can order himself," said Mota.
Barnett also said Jeffrey has made huge improvements.
"When he first started, everything was new to him. He didn't have a word to explain what he was thinking or feeling or seeing," she said. "He'd see something, we'd give him the word for it. He'd pick it," Barnett said.
Communicating between the two was difficult at first because Jeffrey didn't know English and Barnett didn't know Chinese. So they relied on pictures.
Thanks to Jeffrey's motivation and curiosity, Barnett said Jeffrey has come a long way. At first, she worked on building sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, understanding concepts and following directions. Now, that has evolved to working on his speech and listening skills. Jeffrey excels at math because it's concrete.
"It's a lot of work for Jeffrey to be able to do these things. I feel like he does work hard and I'm seeing the progress that he's making," said Barnett.
Jeffrey also works with a private speech pathologist.
Jamie Putnam volunteered her services after hearing about Jeffrey's story.
The goal of the therapies: to continue helping the Boy Scout and football enthusiast communicate with his family and friends.
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