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

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…

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.

Results day!

It’s GCSE results day, the moment of truth for thousands of 16-year-olds across the country. As Hayley goes into school to learn her results, Tiger Mother can only wait, bottle of bubbly and box of tissues at the ready, not knowing which will be needed…

Thursday morning, pacing the hallway

I’m trying to busy myself but can’t concentrate so I’ve given into wearing a path around the house, waiting for Hayley to come back from school where she’s finding out her GCSE results. I’m trying to be prepared for celebration and joy or commiseration and disappointment. Or all of the above!

Results day, I can’t believe it’s come at last. We’d pretty much put it to the back of our minds throughout the summer, it seemed a far-off distance on the hazy, sunny horizon.

Teenage Girl Happy With Good Exam Results

Then yesterday when the tension started hotting up, the ‘eek, it’s tomorrow!’ chatter among friends, family and classmates started building, it brought it sharply back into focus.

When I asked Hayley last night if she was feeling nervous, as many of my friends’ children confessed to, she just shrugged.

“I don’t really care anymore, I know I should but I don’t. As long as I do alright in Food Tech,” was the response.

Very down to earth and eminently practical – which is what Hayley is and why she’s heading for a career in catering and hospitality.

She doesn’t want to go to university, so why should she mind as long as she has what she needs to get into college to do her chosen course.

I’m fighting the impulse to run from the house, swallowing back little laughter squeaks of nervousness. I’m also practical, but I can’t bear the idea of Hayley being disappointed with dire fails.

The front door opens, she’s got the envelope in her hands. She’s waving it, she’s smiling, but she’s on the phone to her big brother Lee, who’s called from work to see how she got on.

“Well?!” me and her younger brother Harry shriek, crowding round her trying to get the envelope out of her hands.

So she clicks off from the phone and holds out the results letter.

She’s got two Cs (Food Tech and Art), a Pass and a Merit (in BTEC Science), plus a temporary Q (‘to be queried’ apparently) which is predicted to be a Pass (in Travel and Tourism), and a good IT supplementary exam which is a GCSE equivalent.

I make that just the right amount to get into her Diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Phew! Big PHEW!

Okay, English was an E and Maths was a D – so close, all that hard work she put into it, it’s a shame. The tragic thing is it means it will stalk her for the next two years at college until she gets a C, the same for English.

But what the heck. Work in progress. The main thing is Hayley’s got what she needs to be on her way to the career she’s desperate to be in. She’s a very happy and excited chef in the making.

Big hugs, no tissues, the champagne is chilling ready for popping when all the family’s home.

Let the future begin…

Has your deaf child just got their results? Feel free to comment below 🙂

*Please note image is not of Hayley

Life after exams

With GCSE exams all behind her now, the stress receding to a distant memory, Hayley has officially left school and looking forward to a long glorious summer before embarking on the next phase of her life…

Thursday evening, art exhibition in school sports hall

Well, we made it. When the battles, the shock and awe strikes and the crossfire suddenly subside, it feels unnaturally calm.

Twirling my glass of wine in my hand, standing in the GCSE art exhibition admiring Hayley’s little corner of achievement, life feels very civilised.

I give Hayley a hug. “Love it,” I say. “See? It was all worth it.”

She shrugs, blasé like it doesn’t matter at all, but the relief is clear. Every day since the final exam she uncoils a little more; smiles, laughter, even pleasant conversation, in evidence once again.

We got through the hellish weeks and months of revision and exams. The tidal waves of encouragement, the pep talks, the drip-drip of nagging, the bribes…

It’s over bar the shouting – August 20th results day.

Students in a school hallway

But I don’t think there’ll be tears and tribulations.

Hayley doesn’t want to do any more purely academic study. She’s got a college place to do what she loves, catering and hospitality, and will be placed on the most suitable course level after her results are known.

But also, whatever the results, she knows she’s done her best.

Several weeks before exams, parents with children at risk of failing to get grade A*– C grades were asked by the deputy head to write a letter to their child, expressing how proud we were of them and how certain that they’d try hard and do well in their exams.

The sealed envelopes were distributed by the deputy head on the first morning of exams.

Apparently it did wonders for the performance of a rugby team (England?) and for the GCSE exam grades of a school that had tried it.

It seemed a great idea, and once I’d started there was so much to say. Because if there’s one thing Hayley is it’s a trier.

Part of it read: ‘You’ve shown your determination over again since you were born, half the size of most babies, first fighting to get well and strong and come out of hospital. And again whenever you’ve had big operations.

And when you find things tough because of your hearing or your difficulty understanding/processing some things.

Whether it’s learning to swim, running in school relay races with the most determined look on your face, little legs bombing along; jumping off mountains into freezing cold lakes with Air Cadets; or just doing your best to sort out something I’ve asked you to do – whatever it is you’ve done it to the absolute best of your ability. Your determination shines through like a beacon.

You are such a trier, and that’s what is important in life. Anyone can be skilled or academic or gifted – but it’s how hard you try, how determined you are especially when you don’t find things easy, that’s important.

It’s those that don’t find it easy yet still do their damndest that deserve the credit. And that’s you.”

I’m not sure whether it’ll help, especially as being Hayley she forgot to go and collect it until after her first two exams – ! – but anyway it’s true. Her qualities are easily worth as much, and will be as useful to her in life, as any amount of A* grades.