Commencement 2016: URI student writes children’s book about hearing loss

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KINGSTON, R.I., April 12, 2016—As a 21-year-old college senior, Gabriela Cardona has done something most people never accomplish: She’s the author of a children’s book—and one about hearing loss, no less.

Cardona, of Portland, Maine, will graduate from the University of Rhode Island this spring with a bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders. Her minor is even more impressive: thanatology, or the study of death, loss and grieving.

She initially wrote “Ava’s Last Day of Summer,” which is available on for $9.50, for her honor’s project, but decided to offer it to the public when she realized it could help children who are deaf—and their parents.

“I’ve always wanted to help people and this book made that possible,” says Cardona. “For a child, being deaf can pose challenges, and the book guides the child through his or her journey.”

Growing up in North Deering, a suburb of Portland, Cardona knew in high school that she wanted to study speech pathology. Her father—who performs diagnostic ultrasounds as a sonographer—also encouraged her to explore a career in health care.

“He wanted me to graduate from college with a skill that could lead to a job,” she says. “I also got some good experience observing autistic children in high school to find out if this was something I wanted to do.”

URI was her first choice. She fell in love with the woody campus during a visit and was also impressed with the University’s communicative disorders program. Plus, she jumped at the opportunity to play field hockey on the URI club team.

She managed to graduate in three years thanks to a strong work ethic instilled by her parents, Robert and Stacey Cardona, and excellent study habits. She took extra courses most semesters and classes during the summer, in addition to holding down a part-time job at URI’s Anna Fascitelli Fitness and Wellness Center.

In one of her more fulfilling academic experiences at URI she visited a nonprofit organization in Warwick that helps children and adults cope with the loss of a loved one. She sat in on a session with children.

“They were very mature and courageous,” says Cardona. “You could tell this was a perfect place to help them move through their feelings.”

Her book—illustrated by her cousin, Marcus Cardona—chronicles the experience of 6-year-old Ava as she prepares for her first day of kindergarten. Ava is deaf and wears hearing aids that are “light blue”—her favorite color.

Ava’s mother and father, along with speech therapists, taught her how to talk, but she also uses American Sign Language, or “ASL.” Her best friend is Vanessa, who doesn’t use hearing aids and only communicates with her hands.

“Mom and Dad are really nervous for me to start school tomorrow,” Ava says. “They met with the principal and teachers a lot this summer. I wonder if I will be the only one in my class with hearing aids.”

The day before kindergarten, the girls bake cookies and when they’re finished “the timer light flashed to let us know the cookies were done.” Eating on a blanket outside, the girls watch ants grab their crumbs.

“I ask Vanessa if she wants hearing aids, but she says no,” says Ava. “She likes being Deaf and doesn’t want to change. I don’t think she has to change either. I like her how she is, and I like my hearing friends too. They’re all just friends to me.”

Ava reflects on her young life: “Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like if I only used sign language like Vanessa, or if I could hear without my aids. It doesn’t matter to me though. There is no one else like me, and I like to do the same things with all of my friends.”

She is scared and nervous to start school, as most kids are, but is comforted knowing she’ll get a special seat next to the teacher. On the book’s last page, she goes to sleep, eager for her next adventure: “Wish me luck tomorrow!”

After graduation, Cardona is expected to pursue her master’s degree at URI in speech language pathology. If what she did in the past is any indication, she’ll probably graduate sooner than later.

“I’m proud of my work,” she says. “And I’m excited to see what the next years will bring.”

URI photo by Nora Lewis