College trip to New York

Hayley’s growing up, becoming more independent than ever, and travelling halfway across the world with her friends…

Sunday early evening, at the computer

“OMG it’s soo amazing, we’re having a wicked time! Love you x”

Hayley’s messaging me from across the Atlantic. She’s eating breakfast (pancakes with maple syrup and bacon) and I’ve just cleared up after dinner (ham, egg and chips) at home.

She’s gone off on a five-day trip to New York with her college and I’m scrolling through a stream of photos she’s just posted up on Facebook – iconic cityscapes and landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building, American traffic cops mailboxes, ‘don’t walk’ lights at traffic signals, and of course endless snaps of food they’re about to eat, have just eaten or would like to eat…

Arms raised in the air

When I shelled out for the trip back in September when she started college, I thought it was tied in with her Hospitality and Catering course, was all about the gastronomic delights on offer.

But when Hayley said their itinerary included eating at Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café, I was surprised. It turned out the trip was open to all at the college, whether hairdressing, engineering or floristry students.

I didn’t mind though, because to be honest it marked such a turning point in Hayley’s life.

She was massively keen to go because of course it was billed as the opportunity of a lifetime.

But the other reason she was so hell-bent on going was that her friends had put their names down and she so desperately wanted to go with them.

Regular readers might recall that Hayley has struggled socially throughout her school life from the age of eight when she was diagnosed as deaf. It wasn’t just the obvious things, the hearing aids, the ‘otherness’ of being the only child in school who was deaf.

It was a subtle mix of things to do with deafness that combined and conspired to set her apart. Having to sit in a certain place in the classroom so she could hear the teachers and see their face to lip-read, rather than with a group of friends. Time off for hospital and audiology appointments and surgery to remove the cholesteatomas that grew aggressively in her ears.

Never quite being in on what was required next in class, where to go, what to do, though she watched her classmates eagle-eyed to try to keep in the loop.

Always being one step behind in the conversation, processing slower, not getting the joke or getting it one beat too late, all the struggles of trying to hear and make sense of everything in the noisy, fast moving din of the playground, everyone talking and shouting at once and on the move so that things were lost on her.

Having to be taken out of class for extra sessions to work on phonics and her word retrieval difficulties.

Yet Hayley was always so sociable, never stopped trying, but it so often didn’t go well for her and only got worse at high school. She spent a lot of the time feeling lonely, sad and isolated.

College proved a different story, a clean slate where she made friends, proper friends, with likeminded people who shared the same interests.

And the fact that at the other end of the college year they’re still good mates and experiencing the joys of New York together is testament to that progress.

Please note image is not Hayley

Hayley’s broken hearing aid

A broken hearing aid throws life into chaos for Hayley… thank goodness for a helpful audiology department

Wednesday evening, in the car

Hayley’s just got into the car after finishing a day’s work experience placement at a hotel, as part of her college course. Before I can ask her how it went, she’s launched into a full-on rant, on the verge of tears.

“Oh my god, you’ve got to do something! My hearing aid’s broken, I can’t hear anything, I’m not going into college in the morning if I can’t hear! I don’t care if I get into trouble, I’m not going!”

Teenager girl taking off hearing aid

I try to calm her down, but there’s not much I can say because we can’t do anything until tomorrow when the audiology department will be open and hopefully sort us out.

She’s really upset because she’s struggled to hear for six hours, including instructions from the chefs and front of house manager, and she’s embarrassed. Normally she manages so well that the issue never comes up anywhere, even at work where she’s a part time kitchen assistant in a pub restaurant; no-one’s even asked about her hearing aids.

It’s funny how you get to take things for granted, especially when you’re seeing it from the outside.

Hayley is moderately deaf in both ears, wears two hearing aids, and without them – and a bit of lip-reading – she struggles desperately. In her waking moments she’s never without them, you almost get lulled into forgetting she’s deaf. I still get surprised when I go to wake her in the morning, and talk to her and she can’t hear anything I’m saying, until she reaches over for her hearing aids and pops them in.

We’ve grown to take it for granted over the 10 years since she’s worn them, whereas at first we were more aware of whether she could hear, of how exhausting a school day was for her straining to hear in the chaos of the classroom, corridors and playground.

Hayley’s become so independent with it all, now we don’t give it so much thought – until a blip like this.

She’s done well really, she’s had hearing aids since she was eight and she’s only broken one once before, and lost two (one left on a train after she took it out to put headphones on, the other got eaten – well thoroughly chewed anyway – by the dog).

I know what the problem is this time. It’s the hook that’s broken – the little bit attached to the electronic part of the hearing aid which the tube pushes onto.

What’s happened is that after much nagging, she finally re-tubed her hearing aid this morning and because she’d left it so long the tube got brittle, was hard to pull off, and the pressure cracked the delicate hook.

Next morning I call the audiology department and they say bring it in. It’s 45 minutes’ drive and sure enough the lovely staff sort it, and within two hours I hotfoot it back to deliver it to Hayley.

“Yes I’ll re-tube it sooner next time,” she promises as she runs off for her train to college.

Even Hayley takes her hearing aids for granted, but I think this time maybe she will do it!

Sticking with college

Hayley’s been struggling with college, but there’s good news on that front and a change of direction avoided

Thursday evening, in the hall

Hayley’s just come in the door and she’s smiling, which is surprising given that she’s just done an hour of maths tuition.

Student drawing a chart

How was it, I ask.

“Yeh, good,” comes the fairly shocking reply.

Hayley hates maths with a passion; I’ve seen her often reduced to tears by a page of algebra or trigonometry. She really struggles not just with maths, but most academic subjects. It’s due in part to her deafness, I guess, being left behind to flounder throughout school, especially as she has other learning issues such as slow processing skills and poor auditory memory.

And this is why she’s been so anxious recently – she was told by one of her college tutors that she needs a C grade in both Maths and English in order to pass her level 2 diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Some of you may remember from last month that while Hayley loves the cooking and front of house part of her course, she’s become so frustrated and fed up with the academic side, the written assignments as well as English and maths that she was desperate to leave and get an apprenticeship instead.

I’d tried to talk her out of it as it seems a better, more higher salaried option to enter her chosen career with as high a qualification as possible.

Well since then, I’ve been in touch with National Deaf Children’s Society about it and they told me it could be discriminatory if a vocational diploma pass was dependent on English and maths results.

So I contacted the college and they confirmed that the diploma is a separate qualification, not dependent on maths and English grades. It turns out that it was one misinformed tutor who misled Hayley, so they are now making sure the issue is clarified to all the tutors – and a lot of weight has been taken off Hayley’s shoulders!

She does still have to keep doing her maths and English until she’s 18 or gets a C grade, and of course they’re qualifications and skills that will be useful throughout life.

Hayley’s course leaders have now transferred her from GCSE English to English functional skills with the plan being for her to work up from there towards a GCSE. And I’ve arranged for some maths tuition from a local tutor for an hour once a week, to help her confidence. It’s not cheap, but hopefully it will give her a boost.

Onwards and upwards…

Will Hayley quit college?

It looks like there could be changes ahead for Hayley as she’s struggling at college and hankering to be out at work…

Tuesday evening, on the stairs

“Mum, can I talk to you a minute?”

That’s very formal for Hayley, she normally just rabbits away in your ear at a hundred miles an hour, whatever you’re doing, following you up the stairs or into the bathroom, out to empty the bin…

An appointment request isn’t her style, must be serious. I dump the washing basket down and sit on the stairs. Hayley plonks down beside me, her little face anxious, fidgeting with her fingernails.

“What’s up my lovely?”

“I don’t want to go to college any more. I hate all the written work, I can’t do it, it’s boring. I want to get an apprenticeship instead, then I can earn money as well and cook and not do the written stuff.”

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

Once she starts, it pours out of her in a woeful, excitable torrent.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the novelty wore off. College was great compared to school – Hayley enjoyed feeling grown up, made new friends, loved the practical work they do on her Hospitality and Catering course.

But, just like at school, she’s once again floundering. There’s too much theory and too many written assignments going on for Hayley’s liking, when all she wants to do is get in the kitchen and cook, and learn front of house in the college restaurants, which they do two days a week.

I’m not really sure what to say. Instinctively I want to tell her to go for it, take up an apprenticeship – I’m sure she’d make a success of it.

Hayley is very practical. She loves to work, has had various jobs since she was 14 and currently works weekends at a local farm amusement park in their cafes.

And the girl does have an acquired a taste for earning wages…

The problem is Hayley’s always struggled with academic/abstract things. I don’t know how much is down to her deafness, or a combination of that and associated difficulties, including auditory memory problem and slow processing skills.

I think back to the initial open day at college when they pointed out how much higher a salary people working in catering and hospitality get when they have a qualification, compared to those who do not.

I remind Hayley of this, try to encourage the longer term view. It’d be such a shame not to enter her chosen career at as highly qualified a level as possible.

At least if she just completes this first year, hopefully gets her English and Maths grade C too, which I’m told she needs in order to attain the diploma, then maybe she can look for a decent apprenticeship.

Hmm. I tell her to stick it out, just this first year at least. I agree to line up some Maths tuition starting this month, from a tutor who helped a friend’s daughter.

Just like school and GCSEs, it’s got to be head down, bite your lip and get through these next few months. Then move on if that’s what she wants, venture out into the world of work.

Hayley’s not hiding her hearing aids

Sunday afternoon, at home on my mobile

Ping! Hayley’s posted more photos on Facebook from New Year’s Eve.

She went to stay with a mate for the celebrations – a sign of the times, Hayley being 17 now and it being far too boring at home with the folks.

The photos show Hayley and friends, a happy bunch, all glamour and smiles for their group shots.
teenage girl hearing aid
Scrolling through, I can tell that she was feeling confident as she got ready to party with her friends and others, friends of friends she’d never met before.

I know because her hair is in an ‘up’ do.

It’s often possible to gauge Hayley’s confidence levels by her hairstyle, up or down, tucked behind her ears or brushed over them.

I remember back to last year when she went to registration day on her Hospitality and Catering college course – out into the big world of strangers, beyond the smallish community where we live, where she’s been around the same familiar peer group since nursery.

As we got ready to drive to college that September morning, I noticed Hayley wasn’t wearing her left hearing aid (her slightly better ear). She had her hair tucked behind that ear and swept across to the other side, covering her hearing aid in her right ear (which is more severely deaf).

I asked her where the missing hearing aid was. Hayley shook her head, smoothed her hair further over her existing one.

“I don’t want people to know I’m deaf or wear hearing aids.”

This was a first. She’d worn them since the age of seven and never seemed to mind before; they were part of her.

“But why, love?”

“Because people treat you differently.”

Really?

“Yes mum – if they know you have something wrong with you, whatever it is, like special needs or even if you’re diabetic, they see you differently and treat you differently.”

But…

“Yes I know they’re going to see my hearing aids eventually because I have to tie my hair back and wear a chef’s skull cap.” Looking defiant now. “But I want to get to know them and make friends first, before they judge me.”

Wow. She’d really thought this through. My heart gave a little ouch, thinking of her preparing for the big day meeting all the other new students. Most teenagers would be feeling self-conscious pangs of doubt, wondering how they measure up, how they’ll fit in. She had an extra insecurity to wrangle with.

And I can’t fault her thinking. She’s right, people do make judgements. Who am I to instruct her to bold it out, stick with what is righteous, when this is the real world and not a politically correct one.

Anyway, within a week Hayley was comfortable enough to go back to two hearing aids, hair scraped back for kitchen duty. She’s made good friends who accept her and her confidence has grown.

And that’s what shines out in the party photos…

Please note photo is not of Hayley.

Beating the bully

Hayley has been thriving at catering college, taken to it like a duck to hoisin sauce. Now something’s stirred things up and Hayley’s panicking…

Tuesday morning, at the computer

‘Mum, what am I going to do? It’ll ruin everything!’

It had to come. The transition to college had run too smooth since Hayley started in September.

But this is a nightmare. Yesterday Hayley came rushing home, slamming the door behind her like the enemy was after her, hell bent on her destruction. Which is kind of true.

Teenage girl covering her face

A bully from Hayley’s old school had turned up like a bad penny, transferring onto her course then being put into Hayley’s tiny learning group of four.

And to add insult, this enemy is not especially hell bent on her destruction, not one of her arch enemies, just a casual bully who takes mild pleasure in humiliating her.

For the last year of school This Girl made a point of ‘hilariously’ addressing her as Laura, some poor girl in their year who was obese and a figure of ridicule, because she said Hayley looked like her.

It ruined Air Cadets for Hayley when this bully joined. Hayley had been there three years, loved it, earned respect from other cadets and the officers. It was a boost from the struggle she had at school academically and socially.

But then This Girl arrived, started the bullying name game and succeeded in corralling off a friend Hayley had made there, then shutting Hayley out.

Along with others from school, she’s been on Hayley’s train each morning, attending another course at the same college. Hayley’s been walking a knife edge as the ‘Laura’ humiliation continued.

But to think she was now on the same course where Hayley’s made a fresh start is unbearable.

I had no intention of being involved in the nitty gritty of her college life, but I’d no choice. I emailed the lecturer, explained how Hayley had struggled with bullying issues throughout secondary school, which This Girl had been part of – and how even now on the train it was continuing.

Starting college had been the most amazing feeling for Hayley, a fresh start full of hope. Now she faced the prospect of the baggage following.

I acknowledged that it can’t be easy to please everyone, but I was talking about a girl who’d struggled, vulnerable because of her deafness – which for many children with hearing loss so often leads to isolation and social exclusion – and also social communication difficulties.

I said how in spite of the challenges, which had often left her utterly miserable and without friends, Hayley remains incredibly game and sociable. She’s been so happy at college, making new friends and getting on well, the clean slate with a more mature environment we’ve all desperately wanted for her.

I begged the lecturer at least not to have them in the same learning group.

And you know what? She emailed right back this morning saying she’d immediately take her out of Hayley’s group, that she’d monitor things and we should keep her updated of any problems.

Jaw dropping. I text Hayley. These people have already done more in one swoop than her school did for her in all her time there.

If you are deaf and being bullied, or if you have a deaf child who is being bullied, check out NDCS’s free resources.

A great start at college

College life turns out to be keeping Hayley pretty busy but also very happy

Saturday morning, in the garden…

I’m standing by the washing line pegging out flappy rows of little white chef’s jackets and aprons, making the most of this glorious autumn sunshine.

Hayley is four weeks in at her catering and hospitality course at college, and after the initial packed itinerary of welcome meetings, admin, food hygiene exams and general sorting out, they got down to work pretty quickly.

This has been the busiest week yet. Hayley and her fellow students have been cooking a range of delights for the restaurant at college, including pea soup, the vivid hues of which I’ve just about managed to get out of the chef’s whites (who was it thought of making chef’s uniforms white…!)

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

And Hayley is in bed, having a well-earned lie in.

It’s been full on, very different from the school days that saw her home by 3.20pm each day.

She’s now got long days and an hour’s train commute, so most often she’s out the door by 7.25am, and likely not back in until 6.30pm. Then there are the early starts two days a week when they have to prepare food for breakfast in the restaurant, so she’s gone from here by 6.45am – before I’m even out of bed!

But the amazing thing is that she’s doing it. And she’s managing it all by herself – by that, I mean classes and college life too. And she’s happy. Bingo!

After all the struggles through school years – with her deafness, specific learning difficulties, slow processing skills, friendship and bullying issues, rubbish support from school – she seems to be not just coping but flying.

And it’s just as well because I’ve barely seen her to ask, let alone had a chance to offer help of any sort.

Whereas at school there’s still that umbilical tie to your offspring, communicating with teachers, flurries of emails about progress/homework/uniform, and you’re kept in the loop as the parent ultimately responsible – suddenly it’s cast off time. It’s all down to them whether they sink or swim.

We’ve managed only a few snatched little conversations or texts from the train, because she’s been very busy with her social life too, going out with new friends straight after college (yes!!).

But she can hear okay with just her hearing aids, in the small classrooms and apparently even in the huge kitchens; her lecturers make sure she knows what she should be doing. She seems to be able to keep up with note taking and understand everything.

She’s exhausted but she’s loving her new life at college, making great headway, no intention of sinking.

It was a bit alien, and worrying, not being able to grill her closely about how she’s coping, but as it turns out no there’s no need for me to be concerned or even involved. It feels strange but liberating to be free from micro managing Hayley’s life and she certainly seems happy with the situation.