Language & Communication9th October 2013

Accepting, coping and supporting our Deaf girl

This is the summary

by Jennie Finlayson

Imagine a beautiful, intelligent, outgoing little 3 year-old child, standing on a chair and singing song after song. Imagine her chattering away and reciting every nursery rhyme under the sun. This was my delightful, happy little daughter before mumps struck and left her profoundly Deaf in both ears.

She couldn’t read and she couldn’t write and now she couldn’t hear. Suddenly, all communication was gone. It was so sudden and God only knows what shock and trauma she went through. I only know that the next couple of years were a nightmare for the whole family. Screaming, kicking, biting, yelling, the frustration showed. It seemed to go on and on and on. Her frustration was beyond our understanding. The thought of what the future held for her was quite terrifying. As a parent, that caused us much torment

Understandably, we were also concerned about our 6 year-old son. Was he feeling neglected? Was he feeling jealous about the attention we gave her? How can we get him involved? We informed his school all about it, but he was so deep it was difficult to know what he was thinking. He was always very helpful though, and came up with some good ideas to help her to understand things. He must also have gone through a hard time, but he never complained.

Schooling was a worry, but, the Education Authority at that time, were very supportive. When she was about 4, they arranged for me to go on courses to London on, “how to deal with a deaf child”.  This was good and when there, I was very impressed with a lady who came to talk to us. She was the mother of a ‘now grown-up’ Deaf girl and her philosophy was that, whatever it takes to make your child understand you, then do it, even if it means standing on your head! This lady’s talk definitely influenced my dealings with my daughter, but I must stress here that BSL was NOT encouraged and parents like my husband and I took advice from the Education Authority and sent her to a Partial Hearing Unit at a local mainstream school.

Battle lines were drawn each day:- 

Shall we give in and have a meal in peace or insist that she use a knife and fork as she used to? Get ready for the flying cutlery or overturned dinner, everybody. Just sit on the kerb while we wait for a bus. Stick your legs out towards the traffic. Scream, scream, scream. Get ready, the taxi is here. Oh, just throw your shoes out of the window, why don’t you? She wants to go out to play.  Too dangerous.  So, just jump out of the front window. OK, we’ll lock the front window. Then, just jump out of the back window and over next doors’ fence. Get on an 8 year old’s bike and ride like fury down the hill. She was such a handful – I could go on!

The school rang one day to say that she and a Deaf friend had been playing with a ball in the yard. (Yards weren’t locked in then, as they are now). The ball had gone over the railings and into the road and both girls ran out to get it back. The school asked if we could help to explain the danger. We built a wall with blocks and stuck some hair clips on for railings. She had some very small dolls which for illustration purposes we said were her and her friend. We used a marble for a ball and one of the ‘dolls’ threw it over the wall. The dolls ran out but didn’t see the car that was coming (a toy Volkswagen). The car hit them over and they were lying ‘dead’ on the road. She watched all this with interest and certainly understood a message which would have taken forever to explain verbally.

By the time she was about 6, she suddenly got interested in her school story books and the vocabulary she’d known as a small child, started to help her.  She was ready to learn. Now, we had a different problem. Questions were endless and she lost her rag if we didn’t have an immediate answer. The trouble was trying to think of ways to explain in a visual way. One Summer, we had tantrums every night because she WAS NOT going to bed when it was daylight. Eventually, we decided that we would try to explain why it was dark earlier on Winter evenings and lighter in the Summer. This was a tricky one, to say the least. It ended up with my husband, son and I holding a big torch (the sun), a ball (the earth) and an orange (the moon). We were running around like mad things for ages but she got the message in the end. It was an education for me too.  Thank goodness for an old Children’s Encyclopaedia. (no internet in those days)

About this time she joined the Brownies and as we lived on a new estate, there were plenty of children to play with. In that respect, she was very lucky. We will always be grateful to those kids. If there were any weeks away from school, like outward bound courses, she was first on the list. She was extremely popular, in spite of everything. She was a bit of a dare-devil and a good sport, so this helped her a lot.

In primary school, she spent almost all day in the Partial Hearing Unit. They did some very good things there, like taking the Deaf children, by arrangement, to a small shop, like a newsagent. The kids all had a small amount of money to spend and were shown how to do their own shopping. It taught them a little bit about budgeting as well as giving them a bit of confidence. On a personal level, I found it worth explaining the situation to the managers in shops we used regularly. You would be surprised at how co-operative they were. It turned a nightmare into something to look forward to, as she loved all the attention she was getting. Similarly, when she was a bit older, we would let her deal with shop assistants herself, so if she wanted a top in a different size or colour, then she tried to get this over by herself. I remember her marching one assistant to the shop window so that the light was on her face. Someone was always on hand, in case of problems, but it helped to make her a bit more independent. Difficult at first, but it was worth it.   

Going to Comprehensive was a whole new ball game. Other than being exempt from languages, she went to all other classes, and had extra tuition in English and Arithmetic when the others were doing French or Welsh. This gave her a chance to see what she liked.

She quite liked school and made loads of friends, but by about 15 she was becoming very difficult again. We’ve all been teenagers, when a spot on your nose is the end of the world, but she blamed everything on her being Deaf and seemed to be in a permanent strop. At home, anyway! Drastic action was needed. My own mother had a deaf neighbour. She was older than our children  and had been away to school and used Sign Language. My daughter was fascinated by her and always wanted to go and see her. I remembered the lady’s talk in London 11 years previous, on the importance of communication, so, much against the school’s advice, I took her to BSL classes. This action was ABSOLUTELY LIFE-CHANGING for her. She was soon off to Deaf Clubs all over the place and really enjoyed the relaxation.

In addition, she got a part-time job in the local shop, which was great for her confidence and gave her a bit of money of her own. We also persuaded her to have a go at golf. She took to it like a duck to water, became quite good and even had time off school to play for the Ladies’ team. This was also life-changing in a way because it made her realise that she didn’t always need to hear to be good at something. She still loves her golf. In fact, a few years ago, she went to Australia to play at the World Deaf Championships.

When it came to choices for GCE subjects, other than Maths and English, we decided to let her do what she wanted to. She chose all non-academic things and did very well in them. We felt it was important for her confidence to have results in any subject she wanted. She could always improve later. This proved to be exactly the case.

At 17, she had had enough of school. She was doing A level Art and finding it far too difficult. So, she got on an art–based Youth Training Scheme to train in Graphic Design. Even though her wages were terrible, she enjoyed the work and must have been good at it, as they gave her a lot of responsibility and she even visited clients on behalf of the company. Her intelligence was now showing and she was absolutely determined to do well, but became very angry when she was left out of meetings and decision-making to do with her work. This was a shame.

At around this time she was very much involved with doing her Duke of Edinburgh Award and she was successful at achieving this at Gold Level. Part of the course involved having a working holiday in Trinidad and Tobago, which she really enjoyed. As miserable as sin when she came home, mind! The party that went included a partial hearing boy who she knew from school, but otherwise, everyone was hearing, plus she’d never seen them before in her life. This was a huge experience. The locals out there loved her and treated her so well. I think they admired her efforts.

She got married and has 2 hearing children, who are now teenagers. They are great kids. When on maternity leave with her 2nd child she decided that she wanted a lot more from life, with regard to her work. She went to evening school (with an interpreter) to qualify as an Adult Education teacher.  In conjunction with this, she sat all the necessary BSL exams. Since 1998 , she has taught BSL and for the last 10 years or so, she has been self-employed. She still teaches BSL. In addition, she goes all over the place teaching Deaf Awareness. She even went to Qatar doing this.  You may have seen her signing on TV or appearing on the news from time to time. She also does a lot of other things that are way over my head, including her own web-site. As ever, she becomes totally self-absorbed when doing something new, and she is totally committed to making a success of her life. She says it is important for people to know this quote, ”the deaf can do it”. This girl, this woman, is passionate about equal status for Deaf people and she will always make time to help those Deaf who are less fortunate than her.

One huge asset that she has, is her ability to be at ease with all sorts of people. Time permitting, she still visits her local Deaf Club and has a chat with the people there, who are, generally, from an older generation, and haven’t enjoyed some of the privileges that she has had. On the other end of the scale, she has met a few members of the Royal Family and she was perfectly at ease with all of them.    She is never self-conscious because of her deafness and is not afraid to persist if she finds it difficult to understand someone. This ability to communicate with people, from all walks-of-life, is so very important to anyone, never mind a Deaf person, and it has certainly helped her in life.

Her thirst for knowledge, her wilfulness and her determination to prove that she can do everything as well as, if not better than, everyone else is what made her such hard work as a child, but it’s also what has made her into the successful person that she is today. Her mantra has always been that “ the deaf can do it”. She certainly can, and I know that she has helped others to feel more positive about themselves or their deaf children.  She has made me very proud.

Article by Jennie Finlayson

posted in Community / Language & Communication

9th October 2013