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.