I am writing this as my eleven year old has headed off on a three day outdoor adventure trip with the school. I’m purposefully writing this while he is still away….before he returns with a bag full of washing and tales which will make me sigh internally at the antics and goings on which I have missed during my respite period from parental responsibility!
Any of those revelations may skew the positivity of this piece which I hope to share so I’ll get it all out quickly now while he is still away and I envisage him sat laughing and having fun in a very safe place which has no water which could damage equipment, included in everything and where there is no risk of him banging his head!
Both of my boys have been away on trips with school and the local Cub pack for summer adventures before, this is not the first time Campbell has gone away. Two years ago he went away to France with the school, his brother took part in a visit to London with his primary school and they have had several trips away in tents camping with their friends in the Cubs. This is however the first time they have gone on a trip without support from a specialist teaching assistant, sign support or a parent hiding in a voluntary support capacity for the trip.
Trusting staff with your child for a trip away from home is a massive step for any parent. For a parent of a child with any degree of extra needs, communication needs or equipment to be cared for it is a positive leap of faith. It can be hard to believe that the leaders will have time to consider all the ramifications and danger spots that may crop up – in the place of that belief is the panic you have as a parent that they will forget he can’t hear the fire alarm if it goes off during the night or the worry that he won’t hear a vital safety instruction will taking part in an activity.
Until this year, my children have had support on trips which has been given by people who understand the many aspects of deafness and who knew when Campbell needed scaffolding in place and when he needed a gentle shove toward confidence in what he could achieve. This year, however, when the question of whether the school would need to request support for this opportunity both Campbell and I paused to consider more carefully.
The fact that he attends a school which has been open to learning what they can do to support Campbell to be as independent, and successful as he can be, most definitely helped as we considered what they were asking. We were also aware that this summer Campbell will be moving up to secondary school and had started to think about increasing his route to independence in many ways, both direct and in-direct.
I arranged a meeting with the teachers leading the trip to discuss precautions and adjustments that may be required while he was away and asked if Campbell could attend also. My primary reasoning for this was to check he would be happy to go with his additional support being provided by the school teachers and not by the specialist support service that would usually be by his side however what transpired was something which showed me just how far my younger son has come in evaluating things for himself, taking strides towards owning his own needs and filled me with hope for the future.
Throughout the course of the meeting Campbell risk assessed his own needs for the trip. He listened to the teacher’s descriptions of the activities he would be taking part in and then said when he would need to remove his equipment, when things would be tricky for him and how best the staff could support him, for example letting him observe someone else before he needed to complete the task himself to get an idea of what he would need to do and having an individual with him to make sure he knew of any danger or repeat group instructions. Some of the proposed activities needed some ingenuity to get round – the blindfolded walk through water, over uneven terrain, tied to other children, whilst one child at the front leads the way being a prime example of where solutions needed talked through more carefully than some of the others!
Campbell was so comfortable in taking the initiative, occasionally looking over to confirm things with me, that for the first time I felt able to sit back and oversee rather than lead. I still needed to mention a couple of points which I knew the teachers would need to be aware of as they would be fulfilling my role through the night and giving Campbell his medication but overall I felt the shift of ownership moving in that one meeting from the vastly high percentage on my shoulders to a slightly more even balance with Campbell ready to take some responsibility for it himself.
This is what is supposed to happen, it is the natural process. We as parents initially take full responsibility for our children and their wellbeing and by the time they reach their late teens this responsibility has transferred to them as they enter adulthood in charge of their own destiny. Just as sand, top heavy in an hourglass, moves steadily to transfer it’s mass. As a parent of a child with extra needs it can feel like you can’t envisage a time when all the grains of sand clear the middle channel and settle at the bottom where you will always be able to observe but the weight is no longer yours. Piece by piece those grains do flow through in their own time though and I am seeing them amassing slowly now.
So following an extra meeting shortly before they left, to go through ‘Trouble shooting of hearing aid and cochlear implants: 101’ with the school teaching staff, the completion of many forms and several reminders of the times when Campbell won’t hear, he has now set off on the adventure with the rest of his class on a coach. He left confident, happy and ready to try out everything he encounters and I can’t wait to hear all about it when he gets back………and in the meantime every time I start to worry I’m going to call up the confidence I saw in his face as he helped to risk assess his own trip and believe that he will be just fine!
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 (buy her book Meanwhile I Keep Dancing here) running the Wirral Deaf Children’s Society (with her friend Lisa) and raising awareness regarding deaf issues wherever she can.
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