Could a change of career plan be on the cards for Hayley?

Hayley’s such a natural with children; could a change of career plan be on the cards?

Monday evening, exhausted after a visit from a very lively two-year-old…

The dog’s stopped quaking and has finally been persuaded to venture downstairs from the safety of my duvet. The breakables have been returned to their usual positions two feet lower than the emergency safe places we hastily stashed them. All the cupboard doors have been screwed back on; the contents restored. Jesse, one determined little explorer – his unspoken motto: ‘inside every cupboard a new adventure’ – has left and peace reigns once more.

Young Boy Relaxing On Sofa At HomeHe’s adorable and we all love his visits but it’s like having a mini-whirlwind in the house. Everything not screwed down will be upended, hurled like a shot put or, in the case of the dog, chased and pelted with toys/drink beaker/biscuits. Now he’s gone home with his patient saint of a mum. But while the rest of us are lying down in darkened rooms with damp flannels on our foreheads, Hayley’s still beaming. “If only he could stay here always,” she says.

I pull the flannel more firmly over my eyes. I know I’ve done it a few times over, with four children and a stepdaughter, but it all seems so long ago. I can’t honestly imagine how anyone copes day after day with such a demanding little bundle of energy. And I’m frankly amazed at Hayley’s total character change in the presence of her little nephew.

She’s not best known for her patience and calm. The house frequently trembles with her meltdowns and outbursts. I have come to know that having a hearing loss is frustrating and tiring, a constant battle struggling to catch everything and not miss out, so I try to make allowances, though there are limits. And recently hormones have come into play, unleashing even more scathing fury and spectacular intolerance upon the rest of us. But something about Hayley comes alive when small children are around. It totally transforms her into a mature, patient, responsible little adult. And I won’t pretend I don’t like it!

Hayley has always got on with children younger than her, seems in her element with them. In the last two years she’s done lots of babysitting, worked on a job scheme at a local nursery and did her work experience at another nursery, both of which she loved and got great reports. Maybe it’s easier getting round the deafness issues – small children have a far less sophisticated grip on language than Hayley’s own peers. Their needs are simpler and they won’t object or get impatient if Hayley hasn’t heard and asks them to repeat themselves.

Jesse’s latest visit demonstrated Hayley’s childcare skills again. And he loved her – a great playmate, good for cuddles and endless repetitions of his favourite chase-me-up-the-stairs game or peek-a-boo behind the curtains.

Although Hayley has long wanted a catering career, I can see childcare vying to become an option. The rewards are very instant – that irresistible giggling, little arms outstretched for a pick-up – and all without the pressures of trying to communicate in a peer or adult environment. I can totally see the attraction.

Hayley’s mock GCSE results are worrying

Hayley has learnt the results of her mock GCSEs and they’re not what she was hoping for…

Thursday evening after school

“Well I did good in some and, um, not great in others…” Hayley sounds overly bright as she hands me the slip of paper bearing her mock GCSE results.

A glance at her downcast face before scanning the results tells me I’m not going to be excited about what I see.

exam paper

She’s got a C for art, a Pass for a BTech subject and the rest range through E, G, a few Fs and for good measure, a U for Drama. This is bad. I didn’t think anyone got a U for Drama.

“Well done on the first two,” I reply equally overly brightly. “Still lots of work to be done but it’s good we know that at this stage so you can put the work in where it’s needed.”

Hayley’s very disappointed and knows that even though these grades don’t take account of her coursework, in which hopefully the grades are better, she’s still way off course. Success measured in five A–C grades may even be outside the realms of possibility for her now as I seem to recall a teacher saying it’s unlikely anyone could go up more than a grade at this stage.

Again I despair about the lack of support Hayley’s had over the years, not for want of me trying. Despite me banging on for years about how she is struggling, trying to get her assessed for an SEN statement, there’s never been the help she’s needed.

“She’ll be fine”, “just lacks confidence”… I’ve heard these phrases over and again, but the truth is that as well as her deafness, Hayley has various problems including word retrieval difficulties and slow processing skills.

So now my fears are materialising, but of course there’s no triumph in being right. Just fury and frustration at how Hayley’s been cheated of an equally flying start to her peers. The education system has badly let her down.

And understandably she’s become really quite demotivated, which isn’t going to help. It’s been creeping in during Year 11 as her subject teachers have heaped on the pressure make the huge leap to catch up to where she needs to be. She’s massively behind with her coursework, doesn’t understand a lot of what she’s being taught or set for homework – and is overwhelmed and beginning not to care.

“I’m rubbish, Miss hates me, she only cares about the A* students” is becoming a familiar refrain about every subject.
All we can do is keep trying to motivate her, get her working harder still and take full advantage of the sudden battalion of sixth-form mentors being wheeled out to help her with everything from maths to organising herself.

And there is some good news that’s cheered her up and hopefully will serve to inspire her. She had an interview for college where she’s applied to do a Diploma in Hospitality and Catering. They’ve made her a conditional offer on her getting five grade Cs but if she doesn’t make the grades they’ll take her on a lower level instead.

Still, a lot of hard work lies ahead over the coming months. Seatbelts fastened for a bumpy ride…

Hayley’s mock GCSE results are due…

It’s the start of the final push in Hayley’s school year, and the results of the mock GSCEs she took last term are due any day – the stress can only get worse…!

Monday teatime, writing up January’s events on the calendar…

Here we are, January – Hayley’s final two school terms. Last hurdles coming up, then that’s the end of her school life, all her hard work and struggles, all my battles – not particularly successful – to get the support she’s needed. The foundation for whatever comes next.

Hayley’s year are about to get the results of the mock GCSE exams they sat in December –a dummy run of the real results day in August. I guess they’ll experience the highs and lows, then be inspired to do their best for the real exams.

Student drawing a chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pupils will be excitedly ripping open their envelopes, then either whooping in triumph or biting back tears of disappointment before sloping off to mope over their failures.

I’m still trying to gauge how Hayley’s done, whether all the struggle will have been in vain.

Since last month, letters have been coming home saying ‘your child has been identified as at risk of failing to get five grade A*– C GSCEs’.

Well hello? Shout it from the rooftops, they’ve finally realised what I’ve been saying since she was eight. This girl needs help – she doesn’t understand, she’s not getting it, nor the results she needs other than when teachers help complete her work.

I’ve seen essays Hayley’s written that are barely comprehensible, read things in her literature folder and asked her ‘hey, where did that incredible description of a jewel-eyed, sabre-clawed, hellfire’s fire-breathing dragon come from?’

Because I know my girl well enough to spot a wildly out-of-character piece of imaginative writing when I see it.

‘I was stuck so Miss put that bit in,’ she’d say.

Time and again I’ve begged for support, knowing her grades were unrepresentative, that when crunch time came she’d be falling off the edge of a cliff.

Now the penny’s dropped. Suddenly Hayley’s been given a learning mentor in the shape of a sixth-former, plus another sixth-former for weekly maths tuition, and an organisational mentor who’ll shape her up into remembering where to be and when, what to bring with her, and how to devise a revision timetable. Plus one other mentor who I’m not at all sure what they’re for.

Call me cynical but now that her school’s precious league tables are at risk of being sullied by failure, they’re wheeling out a battalion of mentors for an intensive burst of cramming at the final stretch.

Too little too late! And not likely to be especially helpful when Hayley’s already bogged down with catch-up and revision.

As it is she stays behind most days for coursework catch-up and now they’re saying she needs to do more.

What she actually needs is more hours in a day so I suggested to her head-of-year that Hayley drops a subject. Hayley met with him and – very admirably – refused as she’s spent two years studying each subject and doesn’t want her efforts wasted. So we’ve agreed she can drop PE for extra catch-up. Hopefully that’ll do the trick.

In the meantime, we’ll hold our breath as she opens that envelope…

Deaf awareness at Christmas

Day after Boxing Day, busy Christmas household

I knock gently on Hayley’s door and peer round to see her sitting up in bed, duvet pulled up to her chin, headphones on.

“Thanks Mum.” She smiles gratefully, taking the hot water bottle and paracetamol I give her.

She’s not ill, just suffering from a headache and taking some time out away from the madness.

If there’s one thing Hayley loves it’s Christmas. She’s very sociable, loves parties, adores her little nephew and young cousins and is addicted to chocolate – what’s not to love!

But over the years I’ve realised it’s not the easiest time for her, as deafness brings extra challenges when there’s so much going on and an onslaught of guests.

Christmas dinner

There’s the obvious increase in chaotic noise levels, with everyone chattering at once, making it hard for Hayley to follow. She often ends up with a headache from her hearing aids amplifying all the extra noise.

And many of the visitors are people we don’t see too often so they are not deaf aware, and this adds to stress and sense of exclusion for Hayley when she can’t easily join in.

One likely flashpoint is the dinner table. Mealtimes with a dozen or more people crowded round, all talking over the clatter and scraping of plates is a minefield for Hayley.

As well as the din she struggles to follow the pinball nature of the conversation ricocheting around the table, as well as not being easily able to lipread because she can’t see everyone’s face.

So she often misses bits or perhaps the main point. Someone – usually me, her dad or her brothers – will stop to explain to Hayley what she’s missed. It makes for an interrupted flow of conversation, which we’re used to, but visitors don’t always understand or show patience and consideration towards her.

Hayley often ends up feeling excluded, leaving her very frustrated and giving her self-esteem a bit of a hammering, even more so when she picks up on the exasperation of some guests.

We of course want to avoid these situations, but don’t want to make a big deal of it which would embarrass Hayley and make our visitors feel they’re being lectured, so it’s a tricky balance. We just tend to drop in deaf awareness tips casually and hope guests pick up on it and follow the example of the rest of us.

These seasonal gatherings of non-deaf aware visitors are also a prime time for over use of the ‘Oh it doesn’t matter’ response when Hayley says ‘pardon?’ It is a huge insult to someone who is deaf – the phrase is banned in our house – and likely to make her blood boil.

“If it’s important enough to bother saying to everyone else, then why aren’t I important enough to bother repeating it for me?” she quite rightly used to challenge her brothers.

They’ve grown up learning why it’s important and will repeat it to others who fall foul of the rule. Hopefully other guests catch on too.

One thing’s for sure, over the years things have got easier to deal with. We know that time out for a bit of peace and quiet is a good idea for keeping Hayley’s equilibrium.

And with Hayley and her brothers maturing, and perhaps deaf awareness messages getting through to the odd guest, the extra stresses and challenges of having a deaf child are definitely easing – shame I can’t say the same about the rest of Christmas!

Please note the image is not of Hayley.

The balance between school work and activities

Hayley’s looking forward to the Christmas holidays after a demanding term in her final school year, while Tiger Mother is encouraging her to cut back on out of school activities.

Saturday morning, elbow deep in revision diaries and the family calendar

Hayley’s counting down the days until the end of term, getting more excited with every little chocolate reindeer that falls out of the windows in her advent calendar. It’s an exciting time evidently, Christmas, even for a 16-year-old – long may it last, I say.

31167_fabric_tree_advent_calendar

It’s also been quite intense at school so she’s looking forward to the holidays. The fact is it’s her final year at school – I can’t believe I’m saying it! – and the pace is hotting up. Lots of hard work is required. And earlier this month they started their mocks, which was quite a shock for her as the realisation hit how much effort is needed to succeed in next year’s GCSEs.

“Hayley’s got to knuckle down this school year”

Hayley’s got to knuckle down this school year and that means dropping – albeit very reluctantly – some of the many and varied out of school activities she usually does. There’s been a fair bit of wrangling over exactly what she can still fit in without it affecting her school work.

I’ve always encouraged her to take part in everything going – Guides, sports clubs, air cadets, work. She struggles socially due to her deafness and social communication difficulties, and having structured activities to go to has really paid off; it’s done her a power of good in terms of confidence, self-esteem and just learning about the world and how to be in it. It’s also equipped her with experience that might help her get a job in the future. But now there’s got to be a compromise between fun/experience and nose to the grindstone studying.

“Leadership experience will help her personal self-development”

She dropped Guides – easy because she was too old at 16. Ditto the local youth enterprise scheme, which gave her four hours’ paid work a week. But she is looking for a Saturday job, doing tennis every Monday and still going to air cadets twice weekly, though that’s under review. And now she’s decided to try Explorers, the follow-on from Guides and Scouts, which involves doing one night a week plus an extra evening as a young leader for Cubs. I can see the value of it though, as well as the fun. Leadership experience will help her personal self-development and possibly boost her job chances in the future.

“She’s not strong academically”

It’s just trying to decide together how far to tip the balance. She’s not strong academically, so has to try harder to get the minimum grades. But there again…

Aaargh, I don’t know!

Hopefully she’ll soon see for herself she can’t do it all and drop some activities of her own accord, it’ll be better if it happens that way. And I can always remind her about the NDCS Young Leaders courses next summer, which have an accredited leadership certificate – GCSE exams will all be over bar the shouting by then, so she’ll be able to throw herself into it to her heart’s content.

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!