It’s that time of year again… Back to School!

Well… not for me, as I’ve finished my A Levels and have started full time work! But Back to School for deaf children nationwide!

I thought it’s a perfect time to introduce my ‘Back to School Guide’ for deaf children and their parents!

Looking back to September 2008… my first day in Year 7 at mainstream secondary school. It was a rather daunting experience, being the only pupil from a small village primary school going to a huge boarding school. I chose to go to this school because I was reluctant to go to the local high school as I feared that I wouldn’t get the education I deserve with my deafness, and not be able to achieve my full potential. Therefore with my Statement of Special Educational Needs, I was so lucky to get a place at the College. Looking back, I’m so glad I made that decision because I would never have achieved the grades I got if I went to the local school.

I remembered all the worries I had on my first day…

  • Would I be able to communicate with others?
  • Will I ever make new friends?
  • Will I be all alone throughout high school?
  • Will my teachers be okay?

Thankfully to my lovely Teacher of the Deaf, SENCO and my parents, they organised meetings before I started to ensure all the support that I needed was put in place, for example; notetakers, radio aid, deaf awareness training etc. My Teacher of the Deaf arranged for me to speak to all my new teachers prior to the first lesson, so I could get to know them and so that I could tell them what I needed. I would definitely recommend this to parents of deaf children as the earlier you can get the access arrangements sorted, the better i.e. interpreters, notetakers.

I used a radio aid throughout school and it helped a lot! One word of advice… ALWAYS make sure it’s charged up, and that you have spare hearing aid/CI batteries with you everywhere! (In your school bag, in your pencil case, with your LSA!) as there is nothing worse than sitting in complete silence in lessons because your batteries are flat and your mum happens to be working when you need her to bring some from home!

All through high school I sat at the front of the class, with my Learning Support Assistant (LSA) next to me. There are pros and cons about this. I felt that it made my fellow peers embarrassed to talk to me because I had someone next to me 24/7, and when it came to group work, I was always the last to be ‘invited’ into a group as I never made any proper friends. However, they were there to notetake so I could easily follow the lesson, and focus on the teacher talking, while she wrote everything down for me. High school society can be quite judgemental, I think it affected me a lot because I got the impression that nobody wanted to be friends with me because I was given the ‘special treatment’ and I was a ‘goody-goody’. I’m glad that I concentrated on my work, avoided getting in trouble because it has helped me achieve my grades by working hard. If you have a friend group where you’re all moving up to high school together, try to make some new friends on the first day so you’re never alone if the group eventually drift apart. I only had one or two close friends but looking back, I’ve noticed that it makes you realise who your true friends are. There were some days where I came home and I cried, because people never wanted to talk to the ‘deaf girl’, but they never gave themselves a chance to get to know the real me. It may seem pointless talking to them, but keep trying and encourage friendship, because it’s a great way of building up confidence and communication skills. Joining after school clubs and teams is a great way of making new friends!

Parents… if your child comes home from school upset, support them and be there for them… as my mum always used to say: “don’t let it bother you, you have more important things to worry about”, and if people are being unkind… “they’re just jealous of you, jealous that they won’t be as successful as you in life”, so ignore the haters, keep your head up high!

Having a LSA by my side all through school slightly decreased my independence because I felt that I wasn’t able to talk to my friends when I wanted to, or sit with them at the back of the class because I knew I wouldn’t be able to lipread the teacher if I did. As I went on to do my A Levels, I hardly had any support as I didn’t really need it as I did practical subjects, and I could always ask them to support me if I needed them and my independence increased massively. My advice is; decide where you prefer to have your LSA, as they could stand at the back of the class and be called over if you needed them, or sat next to you.

When you get to high school, deaf children will pick up words that they’ve never heard before, especially in essay titles or in general conversation, such as slang and swear words. I hate to say it, but be prepared. They might come home one day and ask what a word means… you’ll have to explain to them because if not, they could end up using it in general conversation for the wrong reason, as they don’t know what it actually means. Sometimes I’ve had a situation where I didn’t know what a word was, and people laughed because I didn’t know… deaf people often have a limited vocabulary, because we don’t listen to the radio, or we might not read a lot of books, or aren’t able to listen to general conversation, therefore we miss out on quite a lot.

Sometimes parents can have doubts for their deaf children. Mine did, especially when they found out I had to learn French, Spanish and German in Year 7. They were very uncertain that I would be able to speak a foreign language with a profound hearing loss. However after a conversation with the Deputy Principal, he was able to convince them to let me give it a go, and I am still grateful to him today. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have studied A Level German. I fell in love with the subject, so give your child a chance and you never know, they might surprise you. I surprised myself when I achieved A* for GCSE German and C for A Level German!

If teachers ever think that deaf children can’t do something because of their deafness, particularly in subjects like Foreign Languages, Music or Media… do something about it. It could be discrimination against the Equality Act 2010. Deaf people can achieve anything given the right support, so emphasise that wherever possible. There are always ways around the accessibility of the subject, for example in my Media Studies I created a newspaper instead of a music video as I wasn’t able to edit the music as I can’t hear it very well. Similarly with German, I could do all the exam apart from the Listening aspect, so the teachers read the exam out to me instead of me having an MP3 player. Speak to the Teacher of the Deaf as they might be able to help you think of solutions, as well as assisting with contacting the exam board about access arrangements. Most deaf children should be entitled to extra time in their exams for the concentration aspect of it. I got 25% extra in all written exams, but not practical ones. The extra time doesn’t have to be used, but it is there if they needed it. Also I was asked to be placed in a quiet room with no background noise for my exam, so I could concentrate properly, as I sat one exam in the Sports Hall and it was terrible as I couldn’t think! It was also very noisy with students leaving before my extra time started.

There is lots of controversy about deaf children not achieving as well as they should be, but I hope that with my advice, it will prove to others that we can achieve anything, and that we can eliminate these thoughts. As long as deaf children try their hardest at school, it’s the best they can do, and it can get them a long way.

School may seem like such a drag, especially with a hearing loss as it’s such a challenge. But looking back, it’s a huge part of your life and suddenly not being there makes you miss it! So enjoy it while you can, pull yourself through the hard work, stress and tears, because the outcome is always worth it.

Good luck to you all!

If you have any problems or if you are in need of any advice, please feel free to contact me via email: deafieblogger@gmail.com and I’d love to help!

Love E x

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