Making school work for my son
Any parent would be delighted to discover that their child had a talent for creative writing or that he was attaining his target levels in French. For me, these achievements are remarkable because my younger son, Jamie - now aged 12 - was born with a severe hearing loss that remained undiagnosed until he was 18 months old.
This late diagnosis caused a significant delay in speech development and, in the early days, with Jamie lagging behind his peers, we celebrated every new word. Sensori-neural deafness, or nerve deafness, cannot be compared to turning down the volume on your radio. Instead, it is selective across certain frequencies of sound. Jamie is unable to hear c, d, g, s and sh.
Try saying "dog" and "god" without using these sounds and you will soon appreciate the problem.
When Jamie started at Minety primary school in Wiltshire, his statement provided 12 hours' support per week, but he shunned the extra attention that many other children craved. This was a worry, but we were relieved that he was happy and his sunny character made him a popular playmate.
Despite Jamie's resistance to help, the same loyal teaching assistant stayed with him throughout primary school. She soon had a good measure of him, judging when to step in and help or when to give him space.
We are convinced that this continuity, and attending a small school, where communications were good, aided his progress.
Some of our greatest allies have been the advisory teachers for the deaf, who started visiting us soon after diagnosis, answering endless questions and providing moral support. These dedicated specialists have a vast knowledge of all aspects of educating deaf children.
At school, the peripatetic teacher now plays a vital role in supporting Jamie and providing deaf awareness training for staff. She advises his teachers how to help him by using visual clues, allowing him to lip-read, selecting a good seating position, reducing background noise, supporting him in discussions and using a radio microphone.
In all our dealings with the teachers for the deaf, my only disappointment has been the tight budget handed down to them by the local authority.
Recently, for example, Jamie lost a tiny receiver from his radio microphone during a lunchtime game. Unfortunately, it was approaching the end of the financial year and it took several weeks and many phone calls before a spare arrived. Meanwhile, Jamie had to manage without the microphone, working extra hard to keep up.
Similarly, we have found that the NHS audiologist, who supplies Jamie's digital hearing aids, provides an excellent service but appears to have access to minimal spares. This equipment is a lifeline for any deaf child and it seems unfair to expect them to suffer delays at the expense of their education and social development.
From an early age, Jamie disliked speech therapy, when the sounds he missed became the centre of attention. He couldn't hear or say these sounds, and he felt the therapy was just one more thing to separate him from the crowd.
The speech therapist became a regular visitor at school, working tirelessly with both Jamie and the staff for five years. At times we all despaired, but persistence and Jamie's increasing maturity eventually produced results. One by one, he mastered the sounds and now speaks clearly, with an extensive and inventive vocabulary.
By the time Jamie was due to leave primary school, he had taken giant strides. We realised that appropriate, well-co-ordinated support was essential and that we could not be complacent about choosing a secondary school.
With Jamie's statement, we knew we could look beyond our local school and although we did visit it, we were disappointed - the Senco was uncomfortable about supporting Jamie due to lack of experience. Also, the soundproofing and acoustics in the building were poor. We had to look elsewhere.
Finding the right school
Our next stop was a school where the LEA had pooled its resources for the hearing impaired, with a teacher for the deaf on site. This was an attractive option but the long distance from home forced us to look again.
We then visited the school Jamie now attends: Cirencester Kingshill School - a popular but smaller mainstream school in the next county.
From our first visit, we knew it was right. The Senco gave us the reassurance we needed - the school understood deafness, they had experience and made Jamie welcome.
The school has exceeded our expectations in many ways. The Senco provides well-managed, bespoke support, playing to Jamie's strengths and building his confidence. She is sensitive to his independence and has adjusted the support to accommodate this. With our agreement, he is withdrawn from two lessons per week to tackle topics he finds challenging or to repeat a video or tape that he has found difficult to follow in class.
As Jamie matures, he has to bear more responsibility, too - to look after his equipment himself, to sit in the best position in class and to keep up to speed with arrangements.
Attending a mainstream school works for Jamie. The various professionals from education and health have provided a package that allows him to cope well in a supportive environment. It might not be the same for another child - even with the same hearing loss - but Jamie is highly motivated and exudes confidence.
Looking back, I recall his pre-school supervisor's gloomy forecast: "Things will only get worse, the difference between Jamie and his peers will only get bigger." How wrong she was.
* For further information on deafness in children, contact the National Deaf Children's Society, www.ndcs.org.uk
* Deaf Awareness Week runs until May 7. See www.look-at-me.org.uk