Last month we profiled Cochlear implant recipient Neil Maes’ story. Neil recently won his regional spelling bee, which earned him a spot to compete in the upcoming 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 25-26.


Christy, Neil’s mom, attributes a large part of Neil’s success to their tireless efforts in speech therapy, and she underscores that speech therapy was crucial to Neil’s cochlear implant rehabilitation.

She talks more about the value of speech therapy for her child below as well as how the whole family has rallied together to help Neil study for his big competition.

The value of speech therapy

“We started speech therapy even before Neil got his first cochlear implant. Neil started private speech therapy at about six months old. We also had an early interventionist from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind coming out to our home to work with Neil until he was three years old and then we started working with his school district,” said Christy.

“We lived therapy at home too; everything we did with him was goal-directed play. I decided not to go back to work to focus on getting Neil what he needed. I took it seriously, and I worked hard at it.”

“Speech therapy was hard over the years. We would see a lull and then a burst of gain, then a lull again, and I’d start to get frustrated and then another burst. I had to drive to therapy an hour away. It was a haul, but we hung in there. I do believe that therapy is pivotal to success.”

How to study for a national spelling bee

The Scripps National Spelling Bee Neil will be competing in is a weeklong event. The studying will be harder than his regional event. For starters, there is no word list provided, so Neil will be working on learning root words and spelling rules from different language origins. There are about 470,000 words in the Webster’s unabridged Dictionary, any of which can be called at the national level.

“We got creative with Neil’s studying,” said Christy, outlining what they have done to prepare:

  • We wrote words in shaving cream and sidewalk chalk.
  • Neil bikes laps. We put up a start and stop line; he does a lap and spells five to 10 words and so on.
  • Neil’s two little sisters–Jenna (7) and Erin (5)–wanted to also get involved, so they did Barbie Spelling Bees, where each Barbie has a word to spell, and there is even a Barbie trophy too. Neil likes to emphasize that the Barbie he spelled with was a Ken doll.
  • We shoot basketball. Make two shots and spell five words, and so on.
  • We are in the car a lot going to school, piano lessons and basketball practice for Neil. I have him call out words to me to spell, and he checks if I misspell them.
  • Overall we do 20 to 30 minute sessions then we take a break, and so on. For us, breaking it up into short chunks is better than a long session.

Christy anticipates a lot of sitting and waiting at the upcoming spelling bee. She knows it’s going to be hard but is very proud of Neil no matter the outcome.

“I always tell Neil that we love you because you are you, not because you win spelling bees,” said Christy. “This [the spelling competition] is icing on the cake. He’s humble, respectful and kind. That’s what makes me most proud about Neil.”

How to watch Neil compete in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee

There are 285 spellers this year, and Neil is speller number 213. Schedule of the competition includes:

  • Neil will compete in the first preliminary round that is not on TV.
  • If Neil advances, there will be another preliminary round (Round 2) May 25 live on ESPN3 from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. EST.
  • If he advances, Round 3 will be live on ESPN3 May 25 from 1:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST.
  • First round of Finals will be live on ESPN2 Thursday, May 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST.
  • The Final Round will be live on ESPN Thursday, May 26 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST.

Go Neil!

To find more hearing loss resources and learn more about cochlear implants for your child, visit

Renee Oehlerking
Renee Oehlerking is the Public Relations Manager at Cochlear Americas where she is responsible for the region’s public relations and consumer marketing social media. Renee enjoys uncovering, telling and showcasing the inspiring stories of hearing implant recipients. As a recent transplant to Denver, Colorado, Renee enjoys exploring all that the state has to offer outdoors.