Hayley’s deafness rules out a career as an RAF chef

It’s time to start thinking seriously about future options for Hayley and already plans have been upended, so now an alternative must be decided…

Wednesday afternoon, at a college open event

Hayley’s eyes are shining, a subtle wrestling match is taking place on her face as the corners of her mouth keep trying to push into a big grin, but she’s determined to play it cool.

We’re being shown around a catering college by a very professional and polished course tutor who is also a restaurateur at the upmarket restaurant operated by the students there as part of their training.

The tutor explains that they learn front of house skills, including flambéing and barista qualifications. Also, in the next academic year they are adding patisserie and confectionary skills to the course. This makes Hayley’s eyes light up even more, a child in a sweet shop!

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

“Hayley has always loved cooking”

Hayley has always loved cooking, and has had some success in young chef contests. I think she enjoys it because having a hearing loss doesn’t matter – she can focus on the task assigned without constantly struggling to make sure she’s not missed out on anything.

I’m so pleased she’s thrilled about it because until a couple of weeks ago she had her heart set on other plans.

At a school careers fair last year, an RAF careers officer had said they were desperate for chefs and would take recruits at 16. After some square bashing she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

With three years spent at Air Training Corps, which she’s loved and which has given her fantastic adventures, including flying a plane, target shooting and mountaineering, an RAF career seemed a natural progression.

They took her details and have called her a few times since last year to see if she’s still interested. So now she’s in Year 11, I suggested she call them to apply.

“Hearing loss ruled applicants out”

The next step, they said, was for her to check the eligibility criteria online. I logged onto the site and had a bit of a shock – it said a significant hearing loss ruled applicants out.

I phoned and asked what ‘significant’ meant, explained Hayley had a moderate loss and wore two hearing aids and his reply hit me like a stone. If the loss is enough to require hearing aids, the RAF can’t take her.

“It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem”

How could I have been so naïve and not realised before now? I felt awful, having encouraged her to go for it, aim towards an RAF career. It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem. Had she wanted to be a fighter pilot perhaps, but a chef?

Hayley was very disappointed but took it well, though she did ask about equality laws and I said I guess some employers such as the Forces are exempt from discrimination.

Onwards and upwards with a new plan. With Hayley’s boundless enthusiasm for life, I figured it was time to get her excited about college again. She’d first loved the idea when she found herself in those very kitchens two years ago taking part in a competition cook-off.

And by the time we’d finished our tour on the open evening, Hayley was sold. She’s going to get her application form in, hopefully be interviewed by Christmas and will know if she’s been offered a place by January.

All very exciting and fingers crossed it will focus her on working hard in her last school year in order to achieve the necessary grades.

Should Hayley say she’s deaf on a job application form?

Lots of changes are becoming apparent now Hayley’s turned 16 and as she starts looking for part time work, her deafness raises certain issues…

Friday evening, in a pizza restaurant

“Come on Mum, a bit more than that!”

Hayley clinks her wine glass against the pinot grigio bottle from which I’ve just poured her, meanly she would say, a shot-size serving.

“I am 16 now and I’m allowed to have alcohol.”

Yes, our little Hayley has turned 16. The sparklers have barely fizzled out on her birthday cake and already big changes are afoot.

I’m sure she looks a tiny bit taller, her make-up that bit more sophisticated, a little more time spent on her hair with the straighteners each morning – and that’s just for school. Her skirt’s folded over at the waistband an extra turn, revealing more knee than ever, in strict contravention of school rules.

She’s certainly that bit more determined – which is saying something! – and alcohol consumption aside, now she’s set on finding herself a Saturday job.

For two years she’s been on a local youth enterprise scheme, with work placements in local shops and cafes where she gets paid in vouchers. But she’s no longer eligible as she’s 16 so she wants to get a proper job.

I’ve been helping her fill in an online application for a local branch of a national restaurant chain and it’s brought up a new area for debate.
Blue apply now button
Where the form asked if there’s any disability, I found myself going against everything we’ve done before, with school or club applications.

“Don’t tick the box,” I told her.

It felt awkward, duplicitous and with connotations of shame or embarrassment – like it’s saying to Hayley there’s something she has to hide or lie about.

Which is the opposite of everything I’ve instilled into her: to be upfront about her deafness, to feel comfortable with it, that it’s up to the world to accept it and try to support her to be included.

“But Mum, why?” she asked. “What about equality and discrimination?”

She knows, because I’ve told her, that it’s illegal to discriminate against you if you are deaf.

“Disability is an unknown quantity that might pose extra problems or effort or opportunities for embarrassment”

But that’s not the way the real world works.  I know human nature, have worked in positions where job applications are being screened; been part of the decision making process as to who gets called in for interview. I’ve seen others panicking, not knowing what difficulties disabilities could pose, covertly ruling out certain applications, not because they are nasty but because disability is an unknown quantity that might pose extra problems or effort or opportunities for embarrassment.

“Just get in your foot in the door first,” I tell her, let them see how capable you are, that it’s possible for you to communicate perfectly well, then bring it up.

I honestly don’t know if it’s the right thing to say. But for now while she’s starting out instinct tells me that right or wrong, a pragmatic approach – stealth approach if you like – is more to her advantage, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s going to need all the advantages she can get in an unequal world where she is so often at a disadvantage.

What are your views on whether Hayley should declare she has a disability or not? Leave a comment!

Hayley’s final year at school

Tiger Mother is excited for Hayley’s future as she begins her final year at school

Wednesday, a calm empty kitchen after the morning chaos

Oh the freshness of the new school year, the hope and renewed enthusiasm. Clean copy books, new haircuts, unladdered tights, and, dare I say it, clean hearing aids. Like springtime in autumn. And it’s Hayley’s final year. It’ll be an uphill slog to get through GCSEs before deciding next options.

Catering is absolutely her thing, ever since she won a first prize trophy for cake baking aged 11. There’s something about cooking – where deafness doesn’t matter, where you can focus and disappear into your own little world of creating delicious things – that appeals to her. So she’s deciding whether to gain an NVQ at catering college or try for an apprenticeship.

Students in a school hallway

Summer’s been busy – working in a coffee shop, baking and waitressing, and also washing up in a pub where the chefs let her help with food prep. All this experience is like money in the bank for Hayley – far more valuable to her than any amount of exam certificates. Hayley isn’t one of the A-star students; her targets are Cs or B.Techs, which will be a struggle, but she doesn’t mind and, to be honest, neither do I. I’m ambitious for all my children, but only in as much as they throw themselves at life, grab every opportunity, work hard and be kind – that way they’ll be happy.

“What she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination”

Hayley may not be university fodder – but why should that be the Holy Grail for every school-leaver anyway? But what she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination, conscientiousness and common sense. She’s a trier and a grafter and has turned her disadvantages into advantages; with her deafness and other learning and social communication difficulties, she’s learnt perseverance and gained strength.

Hayley will be the first to offer help and to say yes to any challenge, whether it’s marching the beaches of Normandy with air cadets to raise money for wounded soldiers (tick), zip-wiring into an icy Welsh mountain lake (tick), or competing in tough cook-offs in Young Chef contests every year at school since Year 7 (four ticks). It’s all helped boost her confidence and self-esteem, along with NDCS events she’s attended.

“She might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF”

And here’s a turn up that’s astounded her brothers – she might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF. At school, an RAF careers officer said they were desperate for chefs and would take her at 16. After some basic military training she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

What a thought; little Hayley at 16 off in the big, wide world. Finally being judged by her practical abilities and lovely helpful self, not how she performs in class. Free to fit in and make friends, away from the rigid confines and expectations of peers at school, free to be who she is and blossom into a young adult. I’ve long felt things will be better for Hayley when she’s left school behind, whatever path she follows.

I’m so excited for Hayley. I’ve always told her the sky’s the limit – and it really is…

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.