Tamsin Coates: Finding a role model

Posted on August 21, 2012

On reading Haley Sadler’s article about bullying on Limping Chicken a few months ago, I was struck by her words, her message and realising she lived within our area. I reached out on an impulse and ‘tweeted’ her. Now I do have to admit this was one of my first forays in connecting with people through twitter so I was apprehensive of the process but the ability to contact Haley was there so I took it.

In my 140 characters allowance I asked her if she would come and talk to our group of pre-teens/early teens. She had recently (well far more recently than me!) been through the secondary school system as a deaf teenager and knew the challenges and need for strategies but most of all she was someone the group could identify with.

In our area circumstances have unfolded in such a way that we have a group of ten or so children who are aged between eleven and fourteen who happily come together at events. Some are just about to start secondary in local schools, some are already in secondary successfully and not so successfully and one of the group is a weekly boarder at Derby School for the Deaf.

The need for access to deaf role models for this age of children has been on my mind a lot recently, especially since watching Ted Evan’s short film ‘From Us to You’ (another invaluable nugget I found on this site) and the focus of the ‘Look, Smile, Chat’ campaign from NDCS which is encouraging positive interactions and communication with this age group. On talking with other parents of deaf children I found similar thoughts and feelings. They wanted their children to have deaf role models in their life, to inspire them, guide them and just be there to talk about experiences they had in a way which we as parents could not.

Haley didn’t hesitate. She agreed to come and talk to our pre-teen/early teen group during a pizza evening and so the date was set. The request on her time simple yet boundless at the same time: to share her experiences and ‘talk with them’.

So the Friday evening for pizza night rolled around and whilst feeling like I was feeding Haley to the wolves leaving her with our lively group on her own, we felt it was important that the group would feel free to talk and share without a parent present. So whilst they started munching on pizza and their discussions the parents gathered in a separate room to have coffee and chat. The laughter and noise was amazing to hear. For two hours we sat trying to chat together to the background soundtrack of the sounds of the group enjoying themselves together and taking so much benefit from having Haley with them.

On a brief check into the room to provide drinks I heard a snippet of the discussion where one of the group was explaining their frustration at how people perceived his intelligence because he is deaf. Immediately I heard another of the group concurring with his feelings. The group were genuinely being able to air their feelings and find support from their deaf peers.

At the end of the two hours and a particularly raucous game of ‘wink murder’ we had to draw the night to a close. In tidying the room I regretfully had to wipe off their whiteboard drawings of ‘being deaf rocks’ and take Haley back to the train station. Talking to Haley, she explained she had found several opportunities to re-enforce to the group that they shouldn’t give up on their dreams and they can do anything they want. A message we parents can give our children but one which is much more powerful coming from a young deaf adult who is out there doing it.

From that evening we have walked away with a wish list of activities the group would like to do together that is a mile long (no I haven’t forgotten the paintballing!!) and lot of ideas for how the group can continue, bringing in more deaf role models for the group to meet and take inspiration from. In asking for feedback from the families afterwards it has all been positive with some of the children pushing to make the group weekly rather than the initially proposed monthly schedule and all having enjoyed themselves and looking forward to the next time.

Now with high expectations we are going to plow ahead to try meet this very genuine need in providing our deaf children with the role models they very much want, and need, to show them that they can achieve and be those secret dreams they have for themselves. With graffiti art planned for their next ‘get-together’ Banksy may soon have competition!

Tamsin Coates trained and worked as a Speech and Language Therapist for over 10 years. Her training came in useful when she had two sons who are profoundly deaf. She now juggles being a mum to three lively children, writing, running the Wirral Deaf Children’s Society (with her friend Lisa) and raising awareness regarding deaf issues wherever she can.

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, training and consultancy Deafworks, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Look, Smile Chat campaign, and the National Theatre’s captioned plays.

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