Thomas, the hero of the new Plugged In comic strip, is a typical, fun-loving boy who navigates the ups and downs of middle school with a sense of adventure–and a hearing loss. Oticon Pediatrics, Somerset, NJ, is bringing Thomas and his humorous antics to children with hearing loss through an exclusive arrangement with Plugged In’s creator, cartoonist, and toy designer Pete McEachen.
The first Plugged In book–a compilation of dozens of comic strips starring Thomas and his friends–will be included with all new Oticon Pediatric hearing instruments for children, ages 5 to 18.
“Thomas is a regular guy who experiences many funny, embarrassing, and heart-warming adventures that kids of all ages will identify with,” said Maureen Doty, AuD, product and marketing manager of Oticon Pediatrics, in a statement. “For young people with hearing loss, Thomas has an added appeal. He allows them to laugh with him at the little missteps or awkward moments that are bound to occur in an active, busy life when you have a hearing loss.”
Cartoonist Pete McEachen knows some of the challenges Thomas faces first hand. Diagnosed with a bilateral, moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss at age 4, McEachen underwent intensive aural rehabilitation and speech-language therapy and was able to mainstream into the public school system. Like Thomas, he enjoyed skateboarding and video games and had his share of classroom crushes.
“Like Thomas, I sometimes misheard things with very humorous or embarrassing results,” said McEachen in the statement. “And other times, just like Thomas, I turned off my hearing aids for a little ‘quietness’ in a busy day– an advantage that my normal hearing friends could only dream about.”
The first Plugged In book is a 61-page, child-friendly graphic comic book that introduces readers to 11-year-old Thomas, his BFF (Best Friend Forever) Vinton, and their spunky, upbeat friend Juliette. The characters in the Plugged In books are named after prominent historical figures with hearing loss or deafness. Thomas is named for inventor Thomas Edison, Vinton for Vinton Cerf, co-founder of the Internet, and Juliette is named for Juliette Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.
McEachen notes that his comic strips are aimed at more than children with hearing loss. “I hope that readers will see that everyone has their own unique abilities and disabilities,” McEachen added. “The lessons we share with Thomas and his friends help all of us move more easily through life with good humor and humanity.”
McEachen finds inspiration for his comic strips in everyday life–calling on childhood memories, silly things his kids do, the daily news, office chatter, and even his own everyday struggles and mishaps. As the parent of a child with hearing loss, McEachen said he hopes that his comic strips will inspire kids with hearing loss to “be fun, be bold, and be themselves!”
McEachen and his wife, Kimberly are parents to Connor, 4, and McKenna, 8, who was born with a bilateral, mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss. “I think it is really important that kids understand that wearing hearing aids does not make them any less of a person,” he noted. “I want kids that have hearing loss or health and physical challenges to know that they can still be part of the crazy, exciting time of childhood–just like Thomas.”
Volume I of Plugged In, The Everyday Adventures of Thomas and his BFF Vinton is available exclusively from Oticon Pediatrics. In addition to providing the book as a gift with all new Oticon Pediatrics instruments, the company is also making copies of the book available for a small fee. For more information, visit www.oticonusa.com/children, or contact Oticon Pediatrics at [email protected].