At 4:30 a.m., about an hour before dawn, Brooklynn tries not to wake her father and three teenage brothers as she and her mother, Charlett, head to the car. The drive, estimated at three and a half hours, will be followed by a whole day on set and then the sleepy return home. But the 11-year-old is not complaining when she tucks into breakfast in the backseat, watching a video as the Ontario sky grows light.
For Brooklynn, summertime is high season for auditions, modeling, and film and TV shoots. Add baseball, bocce, track and field, and the days tend to fill up. It’s worth it, though, because by the time school starts, she and everyone else will see where all those long hours went: into a Volkswagen TV spot, a Walmart catalog, or an episode of Murdoch Mysteries on primetime.
According to Charlett, Brooklynn’s just “doing her thing” – which, admittedly, was not what the parents of this bubbly sixth grader with Down syndrome and hearing loss ever expected.
Brooklynn was first fitted with a hearing aid at eight months old, after hearing assessments proved inconclusive and her parents had reservations about the recommended cochlear implant.
As Charlett recalls, “We asked if we could look at the hearing aid route, at least for now. Every assessment had been different, and we weren’t sure how much was due to fluid or actual hearing loss. So, she started with one hearing aid, and the profound hearing loss in that ear changed from severe to moderate.”
At around three years of age, Brooklynn began wearing the second hearing aid. Although her hearing improved, there was concern about her speech and ability to communicate when she went to school. In addition to physical and occupational therapy, she started speech lessons.
“We were worried, I’m not going to lie, about how others were going to understand her. And because her older brothers would be at the same school only for a short period of time, I didn’t know who my eyes and ears would be. When she started kindergarten, some kids were very patient and took the time with her. With others, I needed to be close by to help ‘translate’ what she said.”
Brooklynn didn’t seem to mind. She put in her hearing aids the same way she put on her glasses and AFOs (ankle-foot orthoses). “At school, some people would ask her, ‘What are those in your ears? What are those for?’ But she’d just look at them and say, ‘So I can hear you. So you’re louder.’”
Still, sometimes it was hard. Charlett explains, “It’s not just going to school, but the whole realm around it. What’s happening at recess? Is she on her own? I know that when kids say they can’t understand her, she often apologizes and shuts down. And we started to realize that because she was the smallest in class, she was often a target.”
The online schooling that began in lockdown gave Brooklynn and her family the chance to focus on her strengths and – once in-person auditions started back up – thrive in the sense of community on set.
“When you go on set, you’re meeting not just the director and actors, but around 200 other people behind the scenes. Brooklynn loves it there because everyone gives her a chance to express herself. She’ll do a shoot for two days and then, when we’re leaving, everyone from the caterer to the director gets the same goodbye, because that’s just who she is. And she gets the same love and respect back. She seems to have this effect on people.”
The petite sixth grader also seems to be on hugging or high-fiving terms with many around town. This could be the secret behind her recent sale of 240 boxes of Girl Guides cookies, or success when fundraising for the Special Olympics. She competes in swimming as well as bocce and track and field.
For the moment, Brooklynn is focused on a more immediate cause for celebration: tomorrow’s birthday party with family and friends, not to mention cupcakes, pizza and lasagna. But first, she needs to finish the school day and make a presentation on Down syndrome to her class.
As she logs in and shares her screen with ease, Charlett shakes her head in wonder. “She just totally holds her own. She wants to do everything, and she doesn’t hold back.”
In the background, we hear Brooklynn leading the class through her prepared slides. Minutes earlier, she was sticking her sneakered feet close to the camera to show us her brand new AFOs, patterned with butterflies. But for her class, she’s all business.
Charlett adds quietly, “I think she’s found her way, even with the hearing impairment. She just figures it out. She knows how to deal with people and how to read people to know if that acceptance is there or not. She’s really one of strongest, bravest kids I know.”
Follow Brooklynn on Instagram.
Note: This story is based on a recent video interview with Charlett and Brooklynn.