Happy 18th birthday Hayley!

Hayley bids farewell to childhood and continues along the path to a future full of hope and ambitions…

Monday evening, at the computer

“Seems funny I won’t be reading about my life anymore…” Hayley looks sad but then her face lights up. “But hey I’ll be able to drink alcohol!”

Yes, Hayley turns 18 this month and as she says goodbye officially to childhood, we say farewell to the regular blog. We know the National Deaf Children’s Society will be there for us for a few years yet, but our biggest battles have been fought.

Number 18 Candles Cake

Looking back at the first blogs seven years ago I’m blown away by how far we’ve come. Hayley was in primary school and we were just beginning our journey to get her on the road to success and wellbeing in a hearing world.

Realising what we were up against after she was diagnosed as deaf, what her needs were, how they’d be supported (or most often not). Learning how we’d have to battle for every scrap of help, but how the National Deaf Children’s Society would be by our side, including often literally with our children and families’ support officer in school meetings, to help get what Hayley needed.

Learning about everything, from how to re-tube Hayley’s hearing aids – after hours of me trying to push (!) the new tube in – to how to apply for special exam arrangements when she reached GCSE year. Discovering she could be entitled to a special educational needs (SEN) statement and getting expert help from the National Deaf Children’s Society to appeal.

I remember how exhausting and frustrating primary school was for a child spending every minute intensely straining to hear what’s being said, not just by teachers but in the noisy chaos of the playground. The tantrums at home after a long day coping, headaches from a noisy world amplified by hearing aids – a world that won’t take the time to make sure Hayley’s heard, or to wait for her to get her words out when she stumbles, her processing skills and other deaf-related issues, like word retrieval difficulties, halting her, tripping her up.

The world moving on without her – her being just that step behind and being left out because of it. The loneliness, tears and isolation, the constant struggle socially.

I remember the high hopes of an excited 11-year-old Hayley starting secondary school thinking everything would be amazing, but finding it harder than ever – the challenges of navigating around a huge site, never quite knowing where she should be (she once sat through a French lesson thinking it was German!).

Being ostracised and bullied, sobbing every night, begging to move schools. More support from the National Deaf Children’s Society encouraging the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) to help find strategies to improve things.

Being diagnosed with autism, then later undiagnosed, no resolution to her difficulties, perhaps just a mix of deaf-related issues.

Being permanently at war with useless SENCOs, battling for more support in the classroom. Getting information from the National Deaf Children’s Society explaining about rights to extra exam time, presenting it to the SENCO who’d refused Hayley extra time.

Remembering the time her consultant finally said, after countless operations including three mastoidectomies to rid her of cholesteatomas in both ears, that she’d now only need an annual check-up – yay! And Hayley asking would she always have to wear hearing aids and him saying “Yes Hayley, but they’re part of you, part of who you are”. I could kiss that man.

Then there were National Deaf Children’s Society residential events we’d collect Hayley from and find her apparently inches taller, self-esteem boosted, full of the fantastic time they’d had trying new things, making friends.

Watching Hayley’s love of cooking develop, winning young chef contests, gaining confidence and a direction.

Last September, fresh beginnings at catering college. Not wanting to put her hair up because her new classmates would see her hearing aids, then going for it anyway.

The National Deaf Children’s Society helped us through it all, helped Hayley find herself, believe in herself. She recently shared a Facebook post which said: ‘If I had the choice I would choose to be deaf’. She’s come such a long way from the frustrated meltdowns – “hate my hearing aids, hate my stupid ears”.

Hayley talks of volunteering for the National Deaf Children’s Society, to help support other deaf children to blossom into strong, independent young people who can hold their heads high and embrace life, their future, just like any other young person. Just like Hayley has.

I’ll be honest, I’m feeling more than a little emotional as I write this. I’ll probably hit the alcohol with as much enthusiasm as Hayley will!

But right now I want to say goodbye to the regular blog (though we might post an occasional update) and thank you to the National Deaf Children’s Society for helping to fight Hayley’s battles so far, and for all they do to help deaf children and young people. The world, and their world, is a better place for it.

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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 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.

Hayley’s earning money!

Hayley’s got a new job, a budding fledgling bank account and friends – the girl’s going places

Saturday morning, in the car

‘OMG! I can’t believe it, Mum look!’

I resist the temptation to squint at Hayley’s mobile screen as I’m driving.

‘How about just tell me so I can keep my eyes on the road – is it good or bad?’

I can’t tell from the exact nature of the shriek but veering towards good rather than tragic I’d say.

‘I’ve been paid over £100!’

Extreme close-up of hand holding a modern smartphone with a generic mobile banking app running. This is a version with Pound symbol. Note to inspector, concerning copyright etc: The whole screen (every single graphic element, including battery indicator) is designed by myself.

I’m driving Hayley to work – her new weekend job at a big children’s amusement farm near us. It really is the Holy Grail of the teenage job market in this area – and she’s just seen her first month’s wages in her online bank account.

Hayley can still barely believe she’s got the job; the competition is huge. It took a lengthy application form, complete with points-based psychological personality profiling scenarios to respond to, then a four-hour team-based assessment evening with 40 other applicants – and hallelujah she got it!

She didn’t mention her deafness, although of course her hearing aids are visible. We’d decided not to put it on the application form either as she needed no support to communicate – with her hearing aids plus a little lip reading she gets on fine.

I do wonder if it would’ve made a difference had she flagged it up. We’ve debated in previous job applications whether or not to include it, deciding on the ‘let’s not give them any reason to turn her down, illegal discrimination or not, and bring it up later’ approach.

I don’t believe people are deliberately discriminatory but I suspect often, through lack of knowledge, some might imagine deafness will present too many difficulties so it’s easier to just sift out the application, perhaps for other reasons.

I know not everyone would agree, but I think deaf and proud guerrilla-style is the effective way forward for Hayley in these instances. Get in the door, then there’s the chance to prove yourself, that your abilities are as good as anyone else’s.

So Hayley’s doing weekend shifts, some on the activities side but mostly in their cafes. This is great because she’s aiming for a career as a chef and her hospitality and catering college course lined up for September requires students to have a part-time catering job to support studies.

Hayley couldn’t be more thrilled. That girl loves to work, the money’s just an added bonus for her.

She loves it – the uniform, the team meetings, doesn’t even mind getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning (no me neither, honest…). She’s made friends too, which is fantastic; school’s been a struggle socially all the way along.

Already it’s done lots for her self-esteem. At 5.30pm when they all troop out, the farm army of weekend workers, it’s so good to see her happy little face, enjoying being part of something worth having.

I know she should be spending those hours revising, I’ve clocked the looks from other parents of Year 11s, but as far as I’m concerned Hayley needs mates, self-esteem and a solid work record more than she needs top grades.

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…