11-Year-Old Hearing-Impaired Boy Competes in National Spelling Bee

The Short of It

An 11-year-old boy who was born deaf has made it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The Lowdown

Neil Maes is hearing impaired. But that hasn’t stopped the fifth grader from becoming one of the top spellers in the nation. In fact, yesterday, he competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, along with 285 other young students from across the country.

Maes was born with a severe hearing impairment and began speech therapy at just 6 months old. He then got his first cochlear implant when he was almost 1 year old.

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“It seems like a bad situation: ‘Your child can’t hear.’ But so much good has come out of it,” Neil’s mom, Christy, told ABC News. “We thought for him to win the regionals and come into the nationals, that would be a great platform to encourage and inspire hearing-impaired individuals. It makes a child feel so hopeful, saying, ‘I could do this.’ It’s things like this that mean the most to me.”

It all started one day in third grade when Neil came home and told Christy he had won his classroom spelling bee. Then later that year, he won his school spelling bee, beating out every single kid in grades third, fourth and fifth.

“He was the first third-grade winner,” Christy said. “We studied hard and then went to regionals. He had a goal and wanted to win. We tried to make it fun.”

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This year, Neil did make it to regionals, where he won after spelling the word “ecru,” which secured himself a spot at Scripps. To prepare for the big day, Christy said he practiced spelling out words in sidewalk chalk and shaving cream on a cookie sheet.

“One of his favorite words is abecedarius,” Christy told ABC prior to the competition. ” He likes the German words, the fun ones to say. He loves spelling long dog breeds like Chihuahua. He’s nervous, so I’m trying to play it cool, give him some space.”

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The Upshot

Yesterday Neil was speller number 213 at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He competed with the help of an FM frequency system, which transmitted the sound of the words to a receiver on his head that’s part of his cochlear implant system.

And while Neil didn’t make it to the next round—he spelled the word “polychromatic” incorrectly—we think he is still a pretty big winner and a shining example of the amazing things kids can do when they set their minds to it. Keep on spelling, Neil!

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11-Year-Old Hearing-Impaired Boy Competes in National Spelling Bee

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