When Ari Latino was eight years old, he was watching Good Morning America with his mom. A child was receiving a cochlear implant that enabled him to hear. Ari’s mom started to cry, knowing her deaf son wouldn’t have that opportunity due to his diagnosis of flattened cochleas. Ari looked up at his mother and signed, “Who in their right mind wants to hear?” Even at that young age, he was accepting and proud of his deafness.
The Latino family was told that Ari was deaf when he was three months old. Initially, it was a difficult diagnosis to handle for Ari’s mother, Candi. “In the beginning, it was heartbreaking because I thought my child was not normal, he was handicapped. You don’t know how to accept that news. You have to go through the grieving process.” Ari’s father did not feel the same way, and he encouraged Candi to look at the situation differently. Candi shares, “My husband didn’t want me grieving and obsessing over the can’ts. We needed to be able to communicate with our healthy beautiful baby boy. We had to learn about deafness and do what was best for him.”
And, they did. Candi bought an American Sign Language (ASL) book and began teaching Ari signs. By the time he turned one, he knew 100 signs. Because of that, Candi says he never threw tantrums, having an early grasp on language allowed him to express himself.
Ari is now 18 and is graduating from Louisiana School for the Deaf (LSD). His ASL vocabulary is so extensive that even his mother sometimes struggles to interpret his words into English. “It’s hard to match English words because he has such deep ASL skills. What he explains is beautiful. We’ve always given him his Deaf culture and he has such Deaf Pride. It’s not just a description of his abilities.”
Ari shares what he likes most about being Deaf, “It’s a quiet world. I notice that in the hearing world there’s always distractions. People hear noises and get scared.” Missing one sense also provides for his other senses to compensate. He explains, “I also like being Deaf because my body is very sensitive. My eyes are sensitive, my sense of smell is really good, and I feel everything through vibrations. It’s like a pie chart with percentages. With hearing being gone, my other senses are stronger.”
Ari has taken full advantage of every opportunity presented to him to learn, grow, and experience life. He was one out of 64 young leaders chosen from across the nation to attend the National Association of the Deaf Youth Leadership Camp, which he says was an incredible experience. He also played football at LSD, becoming the starting kicker. Ari has a flair for drama, acting as lead characters in plays at LSD throughout his high school years. When not on the field or on stage, his favorite activities include hanging out with friends, joking around, playing games, competitions, getting involved in events, and supporting Deaf Focus. “I’m an advocate at heart,” he says. “Working at Deaf Focus fits me perfectly. There’s such good energy. I could stay here all night working and be creative.”
Ari exudes a wisdom beyond his years and a maturity that has enabled him to be a young leader among the Deaf community. He has big dreams for his future, which will begin in August, when he starts his next chapter at Baton Rouge Community College. He’ll focus on computer science, but his passion lies with filming and production. His next goal is to get Deaf Focus famous through his filming projects.
He shares, “The dream of having a good job, being successful and growing the community is a vision of mine.” He looks up to local photographer Tate Tullier as an example of success. “Tate is very artistic, and I feel like I can do that too. With Deafness, we can take pictures and videos, and we can make it into art, see different things, imagine different things.”
Ari wants others to know that it’s important to be motivated to learn things, and not to give up. “I don’t believe in giving up. I don’t stop learning. I figure it out for myself.” Ari has already achieved a great deal despite not being able to hear, which is something he wants the hearing world to understand. “Deafness isn’t a big deal. We have our own culture, our own language, we just need access. Trust me, Deaf people are normal.” ■