Good cause for professional rage;Opinion

8th May 1998 at 01:00
I POKED my finger into the psychologist's chest and told him in simple and very loud terms exactly what I thought of him. To say my manner was threatening would be an understatement.

I had lost control because a six year old boy had been placed in a special school and subsequently found to have a significant hearing loss. Unfortunately, once fitted with hearing aids and a radio hearing aid the boy was not reintegrated into his local school.

But was this enough reason for one professional to got ballistic with another? Of course I had to apologise to the psychologist, for he was and is a decent man and it was not entirely his fault.

What caused me to become so angry with the plight of this particular pupil? I myself have a sensori-neural hearing loss which went undetected until I was almost 11 years old. As a result I was often thought stupid. On several occasions I was told exactly that. I failed the Scottish qualifying exam (12 plus) and was directed into non-academic education - sometimes called the dustbin - and the obligation to leave school at 15.

I have to say that this caused me deep embarrassment, as I would liked to have gone to the local academy. I remember vividly in first year being sent on an errand by the music teacher and getting the verbal message wrong. "Stupid boy!" he exclaimed. I can still hear it very clearly.

An aunt who took an interest in me, approached my father and asked why he did not do something to help me. My father's reply, my aunt told me years later, was: "He doesn't have it."

Recently the father of a four year old, diagnosed late with deafness, was asked which school the boy would attend. I was not surprised when he replied: "It's A (the local special school) he'll be going to."

You may think my memories of school experiences somewhat warped after so many years. I did myself until I met someone from my old class.

He asked what I had done since leaving school. When I told him I had gone into teaching he said: "I didn't think you were clever enough to be a teacher." At times I have thought that myself. Therein lies one of the emotional problems of many hearing impaired individuals - self doubt.

When you live in a world where only part of the audible information is available, it is difficult to be confident. It is hard to give witty replies when it takes time to process the incoming information. It is not easy when you never overhear conversation or pick up incidental information.

One of my first pupils as a peripatetic teacher of the deaf was a 15 year old girl at a small Catholic secondary. The "remedial teacher", Mr Brown, told me that they had tried to put "Jane" into his class but after a short period he rejected her as a remedial pupil.

Later, Jane sat her O grade prelims. She received a poor mark in English but was keen to try the exam anyway. Her teacher would not allow it. Jane approached the teacher and confronted him as to why she should not sit the English O grade. His reply was: "Why do you think you were in Mr Brown's class?" Unfortunately, despite the progress we have made in the past 20 years, it will be a long time before the phrase "deaf not daft" fades and becomes a distant memory known only to redundant teachers of the deaf.

The little boy I mentioned at the beginning is still, as far as I know, in his special school in an area I no longer cover.

My question to the parents and professionals is: what do you think this little boy will think in years to come when he has to fill in a job application form? What effect do you think his three-plus years in a special school will have on him? What self-doubt will he suffer? What about his mental health?

But never mind, water find its own level; I've done all right, I became a teacher. When I graduated from the Open University with an honours degree, a headteacher friend said: "B.A. honours, Dip T.Deaf, DCE. You know Jim, if I didn't know you I'd be impressed."

Jim Glendinning is an educational audiologist in East Dunbartonshire.

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