Activities for deaf teens with additional needs

14-year-old moderately deaf, fiercely independent Hayley’s off on her summer adventures.

The suitcases are out, the sleeping bags and camping mats are scattered around the floor. Hayley’s off on her summer travels. Not the rest of us, note, just Action Girl. Independence? If there’s one word that sums up Hayley, that’s the one.

It’s mostly down to the gutsy, determined and enthusiastic person that she is, has always been since she was a baby, a 4lb 3oz scrap of willpower that battled her way out of special care.

Before she could walk she used to be known as Tigger, with her strawberry blonde Mohican hair striped with ginger – the style (not the colour), the legacy of doctors shaving each side of her tiny head trying to find veins big enough to get an IV long-line into her. Careering along the street in her buggy, she’d bounce up and down excitedly with a big smile on her face for anyone and everyone.

From the word go that girl had an appetite for life.

“I’ve always encouraged all my kids to jump in and go for it”

I’ve always encouraged all my kids to jump in and go for it when interesting opportunities come their way, believing you should try everything you can. And this has become more pertinent to Hayley as time’s gone on.

When Hayley was diagnosed with hearing loss and later with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), it gradually became evident in primary school that this double challenge caused her to struggle in various ways. Academically life is an uphill trudge for her. Apart from her hearing loss she has processing difficulties and a poor working memory, and all her set GCSE targets are C or below.

‘Incidental learning’ is another casualty – while her siblings all will mop up information around them like a sponge even when it’s not directed at them, things tend to bypass Hayley. And where they will learn to apply experience from one situation onto a different context, Hayley is far less able to do this.

“I’ve often worried how Hayley will fare as she grows up”

She also struggles socially with her own peer group, despite being incredibly sociable, a real people person.

So while both her brothers and her older sister – ranging in age from 12 to 35 – are very outgoing and lead busy social lives, things haven’t been so easy for Hayley. I know the others will find their way in life, but I’ve often worried how Hayley will fare as she grows up and what the future holds for her as an adult.

“Her social life has been near non-existent for much of the time”

Without a solid friendship group, her social life has been near non-existent for much of the time and her default is to bury her head in anything with a screen for hours on end – the laptop, the TV, iPlayer.

So one of my aims has been to try to push her into experiencing the world in as many ways as possible, to help her learn how to be with people and to cope with different situations. And Hayley has made that easy because she’s really game.

Her regular weekly activities include Air Cadets, Guides, tennis and trampolining. In the last year alone she’s done rifle shooting, abseiling, mountain walking, rock climbing, sailing, kayaking, a week’s sponsored march across the D-Day beaches of Normandy, a night-time hike with Guides plus other exciting arts and sporting activities on NDCS holidays and events.

Yes, there’s often a cost involved, but many of these things are more affordable when they’re subsidised through youth organisations. Some things, like the NDCS events, are even free.

Hayley’s also got herself a job two evenings a week working on a local youth scheme – which means she’s started horse riding lessons now that can contribute towards the cost!

Some of the events can be a chunk out of the housekeeping, but as far as I’m concerned, Hayley gets no other support, no benefits and is not statemented, so it doesn’t add up to a lot in terms of providing a useful learning therapy for life, as well as being fun and helping her to make friends.

I really think it’s all done her a powerful amount of good. She’s thrived on it, matured, and emerged stronger, more confident, more able socially, as well as becoming more independent than ever. She knows she can ask for herself if she can’t hear or there’s something she needs.

I’d say to any parent of a child with extra challenges, if you can, go for it.

Deaf teens and friendships

Tiger Mother hopes 14-year-old moderately deaf Hayley has found a new friendship group, as her ‘so-called friends’ ostracise her again.

The boot polish brush goes flying through the air, describing a perfect arc before clattering to the tiled floor and skittering across to come to rest at my feet. A boot follows.

I catch sight of Hayley’s face, like thunder. She opens her mouth to remonstrate with me – it’s like looking at a cartoon of someone roaring where all you can see is the gaping cavern of their mouth with a woggly thing woggling at the back.

After screaming at me for what feels like a full lifetime, without pausing for breath, Hayley’s fury crumples into tear sodden sobs and she runs off to fling herself on the sofa.

Oh dear. All I did was point out that the kitchen table isn’t the place to polish her big air cadets marching boots. Clearly something else is fuelling this disproportionate explosion.

After calming her down, we establish what it is. It’s the so called friends. Except now they’ve passed into the realm of former friends.

“With her deafness and mild ASD, relationships aren’t easy for Hayley”

With her deafness and mild ASD, relationships aren’t easy for Hayley. Like everyone she has her faults, but she’s a very sociable girl – kind, sharing and eager to please – and tries hard to fit in with people.

During her three years at secondary school, she’s remained with the friendship group she’s known since infants, but it’s been an increasingly hurtful struggle.

As they’ve become older, grown more sophisticated in their communication and social rules, with all the subtle nuances, they’ve become more demanding and discerning. And other girls have joined the group, battling for dominance, bringing about a shift in the dynamics.

The result has been an ongoing nightmare. Three years riven with stress, grievances and upsets – Hayley came home sobbing almost every day of year 7, begging me to find her another school – and, at times, out and out bullying.

Still, they were the only group she’s known and she’s stuck it out – better than not having friends, she’s reasoned.

But it’s been like watching someone stuck in a bad marriage, cruelly destructive, shrinking her already shaky self-esteem, the way they constantly undermine her, making her feel miserable and left out.

Even when the going’s good they just about tolerate her. ‘I’m the bottom of the chain in our group, no one listens to me,’ she’s said to me before in an impressive and unbearably honest moment of self-awareness.

Half the time they act like a lynch mob, berate her over whatever little thing displeases them, or tell her off when she doesn’t understand something, laugh at her when she doesn’t get the joke, irony and sarcasm especially being lost on a child with ASD.

They accuse her of random misdemeanours, even of using her deafness as an excuse, such as for not being good at French. They tell her she could easily turn up her hearing aids or get new ones to magic problems away.

The reality is that Hayley pretty much tackles everything head on, studying languages even though it’s not compulsory for pupils with deafness, and often brushes aside offers of help from teaching assistants, wanting to fit in with everyone else.

Her friends have ostracised her many times before but this time it looks permanent.

But to Hayley’s credit, she’s handled this latest and final fallout stoically. She refused to let me intervene or report any of it – even when it became bullying.

And – hallelujah – she seems to have fallen in with another group, kinder girls, more inclusive, less needy than this group who thrive by picking on vulnerable people to boost themselves.

It’s early days, but here’s desperately hoping.

“No one wants to be surrounded by a hostile bunch making snide remarks

Tonight was just a blip. She’s had a bellyful of her ex-buddies ignoring or insulting her when she’s tried to be civil. She’s made up her mind to try not to let it get to her, but of course it does. No one wants to be surrounded by a hostile bunch making snide remarks, slipping sly swearing gestures.

They may be more sophisticated in some ways, but Hayley has grown up too and in many ways become more mature, with a wider perspective.

A lot of it’s down to the activities she does outside school, such as air cadets and Guides, as well as events with NDCS – finding solidarity in pulling together in a common cause with like-minded people has helped her to believe in herself, have self-respect whereas the others tore it down.

I think Hayley’s outgrown her former friendship group and knows she’ll be better off without them, can finally move on. Fingers crossed.