Hayley’s special bond with animals

Hayley’s been at Guides’ camp for a week, and the family dog has missed her greatly. Tiger Mother talks about Hayley’s special bond with animals, perhaps due to her deafness and communication problems.

Saturday afternoon, in the garden…

I’m standing outside the back door, trying to restore order and call the dog to heel, but I’m failing, partly due to being hysterical with laughter.

There is a canine streak flashing round the lawn, burrowing through baskets of dry washing, leaping over garden chairs, overturning flower pots and bounding up onto the trampoline. If only she had her own mobile I’m certain she’d be doing backflips and taking selfies.

Each round of the garden that the dog makes is punctuated by a spring-loaded leap up at Hayley, covering her in a slobber of doggy kisses, before galloping off for another victory lap.

dog

Up until five minutes ago, all was calm. Hayley’s been away at Guides’ camp for a week and the house has echoed with the sound of, if not silence, then low volume anyway. The telly’s been on quietly, music in the kitchen at a level where you can still hear a jet immediately overhead. And no shouting matches with her brothers.

“The dog has missed her terribly”

The dog has missed her terribly – sulked, taken up watch by the front door and refused to eat her dinners, the ultimate sign of devotion as she’s a very foodie dog.

Now Hayley is home. She calls sternly for a ‘down’ and the dog drops like a stone at her young mistress’s feet, looking up at her with love and devotion. Now that’s how it’s done.

Hayley has a way with the dog that shows the closeness between them. It’s great to see, especially when things are not going well with her at school, or when she’s fallen out with her friends. The dog is like her best mate. Sometimes she is her best mate.

Hayley loves all animals, does really well horse riding, and seems to have an affinity with every creature that she meets, even a tortoise that we adopted for a week recently.

“She really is in her element with animals”

She really is in her element with animals and I do wonder if part of the reason is down to her deafness and problems with communication. The constant struggle Hayley has trying to hear conversation, to keep up with the lightning flow of chat between her peers and others. And the difficulty she has trying to get her words out, often left behind as the conversation moves swiftly on.

All incredibly frustrating and we at home often feel the backlash, when she unleashes it on us in the safety of her own home after a long, tiring, wind-up of a day.

But with animals, we’re all in the same boat. None of us can speak their language, so we have to set up a form of communication between them and us that can work. Some of it is spoken, some is signed – as in hand cues for a dog, riding aids such as leg contact and reins contact with the mouth for a horse.

All perfectly logical, one to one, and for once on a level playing field for Hayley. No missed consonants or having to constantly say ‘pardon?’ or be told it doesn’t matter.

In seconds, Hayley’s taken her eye off the dog and been floored by a hairy heap. It’s hilarious to see so much love and devotion in action – and even occasional obedience…

Why is Hayley’s friend upset with her?

Hayley’s having a tough time understanding why one of her friends is upset with her, and Tiger Mother’s desperately trying to help resolve the situation.

“I’m not going to school! If you try and make me I’ll…”

The next few words are lost on me as Hayley’s voice is muffled by the duvet which she’s yanked up over her head.

Things have gone wrong again. I feel the old familiar heart-sink as I cast around my brain for problem solving ideas and encouraging words.

“Hayley has struggled socially ever since the start of junior school”

Hayley has struggled socially ever since the start of junior school, the age when children become razor sharp when it comes to noticing if someone is not exactly in tune with the rest of them.

For a long time, she had a very dysfunctional and often spiteful group of girls she called her friends. So many days she’d come home in tears, beating herself up over how yet again she’d somehow managed to upset one of them. It was honestly like watching someone you love trapped in a bad marriage with no idea of how to get out of it because there seemed no alternative. ‘I know they think I’m bottom of the group but it’s better than not having anyone,’ Hayley sobbed in one insightful outburst at home.

Thankfully she finally managed to wean herself away from them and in Year 10 settled in with a small group of friendly girls. Since then she’s been a different girl; it’s been such joy to see her happy.

Until now. The first I heard of it was a text from Hayley yesterday saying something happened at school and urging me to text back quickly to tell her what to do.

She explained that her friend keeps walking away while Hayley’s talking to her, which finally got Hayley so frustrated that she told her not to keep doing it.

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Now her friend is refusing to talk to her and has deleted Hayley from her social media networks. I can’t get to the bottom of it, despite Hayley going over and over it.

“Hayley does struggle to get her words out”

Hayley does struggle to get her words out, often. We have to try to find the patience of at least 10 saints to wait while she struggles for the right words, forgets her train of thought, supplies endless unnecessary detail and goes around the houses to get her point across.

It’s very frustrating all round, not least of course for Hayley. None of it helps her self-esteem or her social standing.

It’s long been a problem, something to do with processing skills, word retrieval issues, and her undiagnosed deafness early on when all the neural pathways are being forged by sounds and when the linguistic filing system of the brain is being formed.

Gradually though, Hayley has improved, learning to be aware of the listener’s needs rather than just desperately focusing on making herself understood. I think maturity is the answer; things will continue to improve.

But in the meantime, there’s this current mess to sort out.

I coax her out from under the duvet with the promise of scrambled eggs and a reminder that her beloved faithful hound is waiting downstairs.

“Explain you don’t know why you’ve upset her and you didn’t mean to”

It gives me a few minutes to try to form a strategy. ‘Go up to her and apologise, explain you don’t know why you’ve upset her and you didn’t mean to,’ I say.

‘Done that, she walked away,’ says Hayley, miserable. This had been on the advice of her younger brother Harry, whose counsel she’d actually sought at break time.

‘Okay, well give her some space,’ I tell her, ‘and meanwhile, arrange to do something nice at the weekend with one of the others.’

Hopefully by Monday, things will have blown over. If not, then at least she’ll have had a nice weekend, and strengthening up alternative friendships is no bad thing.

I find myself crossing my fingers and desperately wishing I had a magic wand…

The importance of friendship

 

Tiger Mother catches her 15-year-old moderately deaf daughter Hayley up late, but is pleased to find out why…

I peek around Hayley’s bedroom door expecting to be greeted by the sound of gentle snoring, but it’s quiet and there’s a little tell-tale glow illuminating the room.

“Hayley is in bed texting when she should be well asleep”

Hayley is in bed texting when she should be well asleep. What! She’s a nightmare to get up in the morning for school as it is!

But I take a deep breath before I start yelling. She gets caught out because, unlike her younger brother Harry, who hears me coming up the stairs and swiftly shoves his phone under his pillow, Hayley can’t hear me after she’s removed her hearing aids for the night.

Bit unfair really. So I just keep it to an annoyed but calm approach instead.

Texting in bed

And Hayley is so pleased about something she doesn’t even have time to get defensive and grumpy with me.

‘But Mum, it’s one of the girls I made friends with at the weekend – she texted me!’

I can see Hayley’s beaming smile in the glow of her screen. And I can’t be cross anymore because I’m really pleased for her.

“Hayley struggles with friendships”

Hayley struggles with friendships and has had a really awful time over the years, especially at school where for a long while she was stuck in a group of girls, some of whom were quite vile to her. It destroyed what little self-esteem she had and she’d literally spend hours sobbing some evenings after a particularly horrible day.

So when an NDCS Get Creative Drama weekend came up, I booked her onto it. Hayley’s had some great times on NDCS events before and always comes home buoyant and more confident.

She thoroughly enjoyed the Drama weekend, where about 16 deaf youngsters, aged 11-15 years old, stayed in a lovely residential lodge and did activities.

They worked with a theatre group, taking part in drama, acting and storytelling. Over the two days they developed a play, created the plot, script and characters and when we families arrived to collect them, we were treated to a master performance.

It was fantastic to watch them, all these kids, most of whom didn’t know anyone else when they arrived, come together and perform some brilliant sketches in the manner of an old silent comedy film.

They’d clearly all worked hard rehearsing to get their miming and comedy timing right, but it was lovely that they were obviously enjoying themselves and totally comfortable in each other’s company.

“It was so lovely to see Hayley in the thick of it for once”

When the sounds of devoted parental applause finally faded, it was time for them to get their bags and go. But first came a frenzied scurrying round as they all said their goodbyes, hugged new friends and exchanged phone numbers – and it was so lovely to see Hayley in the thick of it for once, others coming to seek her out for goodbye hugs and phone number exchanges too.

‘Just five more minutes, please?’ begs Hayley from the depths of her duvet.

‘Go on then,’ I say, and shut the door.

Some things are more important than a bit of shut eye, and friendship is one of them.

Please note the image is not of Hayley.

Deaf teenager Hayley loves her new job as a waitress!

Hayley couldn’t be happier at her new Saturday job as a waitress, and Tiger Mother’s so proud of how she brought up the subject of her deafness at the interview.

The waitress scowls over at me and I look away trying to keep a straight face. She’s just done a very professional job of taking down our order and bringing the drinks over to our table, not a drop of cappuccino spilt nor a teaspoon clattered in its saucer.

She’s pretending to be cross because we’re her family and friends who’ve all crowded in to try out the place where she’s now got a Saturday job, and we’re making her feel embarrassed.

Well, what are families and friends for!

Seriously, Hayley couldn’t be happier. She loves the idea of serving customers and using a till, and she also gets taught how to make a whole range of cakes and cookies – that’s right up her street, baking being her first love.

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Hayley was a bit worried at first; that she would mess up, maybe not hear instructions or take down customers’ orders wrongly, especially over the din of the coffee machines and coffee bean grinders. Or that she would maybe just be clumsy and drop everything, embarrass herself with all manner of clangers nothing to do with her ears!

“We talked in advance about what she would say to the proprietor about her hearing”

When Hayley went along to be interviewed for the job we talked in advance about what she would say to the proprietor about her hearing.

It’s a question of trying to achieve a balance – not wanting to draw attention to her deafness, which she hates doing, yet ensuring that people know she may need things repeating if she hasn’t quite heard, and that it’s helpful if she can see their face so that she can also lipread.

“When some people see a person with hearing aids they assume they can’t hear anything”

And there’s also a matter of reassurance. When some people see a person with hearing aids they assume they can’t hear anything and panic that they won’t know how to communicate with the deaf person. All very unnecessary.

So Hayley pointed out to him that she had hearing aids. ‘In case it shocks you if you suddenly notice later!’ she told him, in a light hearted way.

It took me aback actually, that she had the confidence to do it that way – good on her. She’s come a long way to be confident enough to make a joke to someone she’s never met before and in a fairly formal situation.

He played along with her joke, feigned shock, then quickly reassured her he’d keep it in mind and make sure she could hear him.

And so far it’s all been fine with no problems. Some of the equipment is noisy – most of us would be hard pushed to hear over it – but Hayley just has to work round it, waiting until it’s stopped before taking orders or asking for instructions.

Luckily the rest of the time there’s not too much background noise as the acoustics are pretty good – it’s vintage décor so it’s carpeted and wallpapered, which all helps.

“You can almost see her blossom by the day”

She’s doing really well, they seem pleased with her and she’s loving every minute of it. It’s done her a lot of good and really helped her self-esteem. You can almost see her blossom by the day.

And it’s shown me that Hayley’s future isn’t some far off event to be worried over or stressed about – it’s here now. And she’s doing great.

Hayley’s ASD has been ‘undiagnosed’!

Tiger Mother’s had some great news – Hayley’s ASD has been ‘undiagnosed’! But Hayley’s confused and wondering how she will now explain to others about why she finds things difficult.

Well here’s a turn up for the books.

I’ve just come home from a hospital appointment to review Hayley’s ASD. She wasn’t with me – the letter said to come on my own.

I did a lengthy multiple choice interview with the paediatrician, covering detailed aspects of Hayley’s behaviour since a baby.

Then I was called back for the result – Hayley doesn’t have ASD. Even though for the last six years, we’ve been told she had.

Yes, he agreed, even given her deafness, she struggles in various areas of understanding, inference, social situations and learning, but it’s not ASD.

Autism

I’m confused but incredibly pleased and as Hayley’s arrived home from school I’ve told her that she’s been ‘undiagnosed’.

‘So I haven’t got ASD?’ says Hayley. ‘But you said I’d always have it?’

I nod and shrug.

“How will I to explain to everyone about why I find things difficult?”

She looks bereft – quite panicky. ‘But Mum, how will I to explain to everyone about why I find things difficult?’

Good question.

But it’s great news, I tell her. It means the areas where she struggles – socially, making inferences, taking in anything other than simple short chunks of information – she will likely progress as she matures.

“We assumed her ’otherness’ was part of her deafness”

In the first years of school, we assumed her ’otherness’ was part of her deafness, always one step behind, never quite in the flow, not quite gelling with her peers – missing lots of information whether spelt out or the subtle nuances and interactions at lightning speed between people.

She was almost always excluded by her peers; no one came round to tea. While her brothers’ party invites stacked up, there were rarely any for her, other than one or two close family friends’ children.

Hayley found it hard to grasp information, no more than one or two simple instructions could be retained at a time. She didn’t get jokes, couldn’t work out idioms.

She had expressive language problems, and other children didn’t have the patience to listen while she tried to get her thoughts out.

A speech and language therapist friend diagnosed Semantic Pragmatic Disorder – associated with ASD – and then the school’s Senco suggested a paediatrician assess her.

This involved me being questioned me for 20 minutes, Hayley seen for two minutes, and there it was – a diagnosis of ASD.

I was sad, mourned the person she wouldn’t become that I’d thought she would, worried about her future happiness.

But the main thing was to get her the right support – not that a diagnosis helped, with no SEN statement. And so ensued the battle we’ve waged ever since.

We’ve had fantastic support from NDCS, but there was no provision in school for ASD.

“It was hard to figure out which issues were due to deafness and which to ASD”

It was hard to figure out which issues were due to deafness and which to ASD. My own answer was to throw Hayley at everything in life I could, to gain as much experience as possible to help fill out her missing ‘insight’. Guides, judo, tennis, our local NDCS group and later Air Cadets.

Gradually we saw a change in her. Though still one or two steps behind her peers, as she matured she was ‘getting’ stuff more – life, people, social situations, jokes, irony.

She’d always had empathy, shared nicely, been considerate and thoughtful – but weren’t these all the things ASD isn’t?

“I began to question the diagnosis”

I began to question the diagnosis. At an appointment with the chief paediatrician, I couldn’t help notice her quizzical look as Hayley smiled, made eye contact, chatted, laughed.

The woman shot me a look: ‘It’s almost impossible to see any traits…?’

I nodded emphatically, she offered to have Hayley re-assessed and here we are here today.

So Hayley has lost her instant explanation shield when people look at her askance, pick up on her struggles.

But on the plus side, I think she’ll keep improving with experience, especially as her confidence grows and she helps those around her to be deaf aware and more understanding of the issues involved.

Hayley’s new job!

15-year old moderately deaf Hayley, who has autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), is excited about her new job. But Tiger Mother’s surprised she hasn’t told everyone she’s deaf.

Hayley is excited. I know this because she hasn’t stopped talking, at speeds of up to 110mph, for the last five minutes since she barrelled through the front door. It’s like being in a room with a hyperactive chimp who’s just downed a dozen large espressos.

That’ll be the new job then. She’s just started helping out at a nursery for a few hours every Wednesday after school.

Hayley adores kids, and they seem to love her, so she’s in her element there.

One thing surprised me, though. She said that when some of her young charges were curious as to what her hearing aids were, she told them they were earrings.

When I asked her why, she just shrugged. “Just didn’t want to get into explaining it all to them,” was all she’d say.

“Hayley’s never seemed self-conscious about her hearing aids”

It’s unusual for Hayley, because she has never seemed self-conscious about her hearing aids or her deafness. She’s always been comfortable talking about it if anyone asks, and has no problem asking teachers to repeat themselves if she can’t hear.

Naturally, we’ve always encouraged her to be accepting of her aids, and the audiologists are brilliant. Whenever she needs new ones, it’s like they’ve all the time in the world as they let her choose from a whole range of moulds and aids, different colours, glittery ones, pearlised finishes, all sorts.

They hold open a display case of the whole range while madam sits there ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’, trying to make up her mind like she’s choosing a ring at the jewellers. I’ve even had to model them on my ear before to help her decide, at the very accommodating audiologist’s suggestion.

Just recently, Hayley chose two swirled colours on her new mould, only possible, the audiologist told us, because they’re on good terms with their suppliers.

So Hayley’s always seemed pretty comfortable with it all.

“At 15 she’s become much more self-conscious”

I guess it’s her age that’s kicking in. At 15 she’s become much more self-conscious, especially about her appearance. It’s natural for a teenager.

So just like she’s overly conscious of her hair, makeup or clothes, I suppose there’s no reason to think her hearing aids would escape. After all, they’re part of her.

I suspect that, because the kids look up to her as a ‘teacher’– some call her ‘Miss’ which she thinks is very cool – she’s enjoying the sense of feeling like a proper grown up. She just doesn’t want to risk being seen as anything other
than an everyday, common or garden grown up in the children’s minds.

I’m certain that once she’s more secure in her role there and realises it won’t make any difference to her coveted status as a grown up, she’ll be happy to chat to them about it – at endless Hayley-style length!

Deaf teen in young chef contest

Five minutes to go in the young chef contest semi-finals, but Tiger Mother’s anxious that Hayley won’t get her food out on time…

The tension is high, the stress levels producing waves in the air so thick you could slice them with a knife.

It’s a cook-off in the district semi-final of a national young chef contest and Hayley is in a huge kitchen, competing against nine other under-16s.

They each have to cook a fancy three-course meal for two, in under two hours.

We nervy parents and supporters are waiting beside a partitioned-off area where there are dining tables laid by each contestant, ready for them to serve up the food to be judged by the top chefs currently watching their every move in the kitchen.

Five minutes to go. And, while the other tables are now laden with the other contestants’ offerings, Hayley’s place settings are entirely empty; the little vase containing a flower that she’s placed on her waits, expectantly, all alone.

I won’t panic. We are a very last-minute family, skilled in achieving small miracles within tenths of a second tolerance.

The clock’s second hand jerks closer to the deadline. Four minutes.

Then Hayley emerges through the kitchen doors, soup bowls held aloft and I can feel the heat from her flushed cheeks as she steams past and sets them on the table.

She’s looking stressed but cheerful.

Two minutes later and she’s out again – it’s the main course, yes!

And she’s back again in less than a minute, running, desserts in hand and finally on the table. I want to faint from relief!

Now we wait as the chefs taste, confer and make their final decisions.

The young chefs are summoned in, we all gather round to listen. Only four contestants are to go through to the next round.

Hayley is not one of them.

A couple of the others seemclose to tears, one particularly overly confident boy  looks like a deflated soufflé.

I don’t need to watch Hayley’s face. I know she will be a good loser.  She’s just pleased that she did her best and got the three courses out.

“Hayley loves to cook”

Hayley loves to cook. With her hearing loss, I think the attraction of cooking is that it’s something she can do  without having to rely on ongoing instructions or complicated team communication.

She’s an old hand at this competition, it’s the fourth year she’s entered and the second year she’s got through to the district semi-final.

And she has the confidence and determination to pull it off – as well as the maturity and experience to take losing on the chin and offer congratulations to the others.

“She struggles socially and doesn’t get support others do from close friendship groups”

It wasn’t always this way, but lots of things have helped. As she struggles socially and doesn’t get support others do from close friendship groups, I always encourage her to join in everything she can.

NDCS events, local NDCS group outings, Guides and Air Training Corps (ATC) have all played their part in boosting her self-esteem.

We’re lucky enough to live in a community where people are supportive. And where people who know her have heard of her reputation for enthusiasm, determination and the willingness to get stuck into whatever’s going on.

It’s really starting to mark her out, define her. She’s recently been asked to babysit, and to help out at a function doing waitressing, and she’s even been invited to spend a day with a chef at a top local restaurant.

“We’re doing all we can to broaden her experience”

While the academic side of things remains an uphill struggle, and always a battle to get her the support she needs, I feel we’re doing all we can to broaden her experience and bolster her chances of a good career in the food world, which is her ultimate ambition.

Hayley for Master Chef, yay!