My son was three and a half when I made a massive decision which has influenced his life and further decisions to date.
Having been diagnosed with a severe-profound hearing loss at eighteen months old he had worn bi-lateral hearing aids for two years and attended a local pre-school with support visits from our local sensory service. We then looked towards a suitable nursery and school for him. At the time he was heavily sign-dependent, whilst also steadily developing spoken language.
One of the logical suggestions was for him to attend a hearing resource base, which whilst it was out of our local catchment area (by miles) seemed to offer the best specialist support whilst remaining within a mainstream environment. On the recommendation of our teacher of the deaf I did look at our local mainstream school options as well, however none of them felt right for Cameron at the time.
At the last school on my list a response of ‘Isn’t there places you send children like that?’ (yes they really said that!!) I was left with enough information to make a decision and it felt best for me as his mum to choose the hearing resource base to begin Cameron’s education.
With that decision another one came hand in hand with it -the need for Cameron to use transport provided by the local council to get to school. At an age of 3 years 9 months I waved goodbye to my little boy getting taken to school in the care of an escort and a taxi driver.
Every maternal instinct screamed against me that this was wrong but it was a necessary evil which I had to rationalise as the best education option for Cameron against the needs of my other child and our home situation. A hard one to accept as a mum but something that swiftly became part of the routine in our house and a year later his younger brother joined him in the taxi heading to the hearing resource base.
Using transport to go to a school out with our local area had its difficulties. The boys didn’t have friends from school, living within a few streets of us, to have easy after school play dates with, I didn’t benefit from the opportunity to speak to teachers at the end of the day or the chance to form friendships with other parents while waiting in the playground and I missed Cameron’s reception year nativity performance after a change in time was advertised on a board for parents to see at the school door when they dropped their children off – a sign I could not see from several miles away. There are no words to sum up the emotions I felt when I realised I had missed something I couldn’t get back but my sons made good progress in an environment where they each had several deaf peers in their classes and they had sign support available from a pool of familiar adults.
When Cameron reached the transition stage to move from primary to secondary it was time to look again at the best educational option for him. In our county there are no secondary hearing resource bases. For secondary aged children leaving the primary hearing resource setting the options available were the residential school in Derby, a hearing resource base in Liverpool or a local mainstream school. The first of these meant being away from home whilst the second option would mean long journeys daily and no opportunity for developing easily maintained friendships with others from school and I knew my son was keen to develop these alongside some independence.
We were left then with the mainstreams secondary schools in our region, but here comes the hitch – because the children would no longer attend a specialist resource (because the is no hearing resource base) they would not be entitled to receive transport to attend the school which would best meet their needs, despite a statement of special educational needs being in place.
Our choice of school then, was to be dictated to where Cameron could get to by himself or which we could transport him to. Not as easy a task as some believe or you would think in light of his confidence to use public transport, to communicate with people he doesn’t know and hear their responses, our commitments to getting two other children to two other educational placements and last but not least finding a placement which could met Cameron’s needs. If there was a secondary resource base for Cameron to attend he would be entitled to transport to get there but in its absence we were left at sea to meet his needs on restricted terms.
Now don’t get me wrong I am very open to mainstream schools meeting my children’s needs. By the time Cameron was looking at secondary school my younger son had moved from the resource base to a local mainstream primary because of the changing weight of his needs. As Andy Palmer so ably pointed out in his recent article here on Limping Chicken the success of a mainstream placement for a deaf child lies in the school’s attitude.
Campbell’s school had embodied a willingness to learn and support his needs and so had been successful. It was possible for my older son too. Yet despite knowing that there would be some mainstream secondary schools which could and would endeavour to meet my older son’s needs there would also be others where it could not be so successful. In the absence of transport to a school which could potentially best meet his needs we would be left to find out what the schools in our immediate area could do. It now felt like a postcode lottery would dictate the success of my son’s education in this vital period of his life.
If the local mainstream schools could not meet his needs what were our viable options? In all honesty it felt like there were none, we could face a situation he would have to make do with what the school could provide without it necessarily meeting his needs which are documented on the legal document that is a ‘statement of special educational needs’ but which appears to hold no influence in obtaining transport in our area.
We have been lucky, yet again!! Our local mixed secondary school is able to meet Cameron’s needs admirably so far. Even having the facility for small class teaching when he was unable to hear as well when he was newly re-implanted or in a ‘Pendred dip’ in his hearing. Other families locally have not been so lucky. They have not found schools which meet their children’s needs in their local catchment area and now have to commit to traveling miles each day incurring crippling travel costs which have a substantial impact on the family budget or leave their other children to be passed between a variety of other adults to get them to school. All pressures which add cracks to the already fragile shell of parents juggling so much to support their children.
In addition, some of the parents in our area also recently attended a session where a visual impairment mobility officer was able to describe the way in which he individually provides direct support for visually impaired children to develop skills in independence, travel planning and navigating public transport systems. During the session he was able to gain from our parents the ways in which these areas are difficult for their deaf children, which he found highly interesting.
In response to questions from our parents as to how he would potentially approach intervention with our children the mobility officer was unable to provide specific ideas, being inexperienced in the area of deafness, but did express the opinion that individual direct sessions with the young people would be a good format for practical sessions in this area.
This is not a service which is available at present for our deaf young people to help them to develop their confidence in travelling independently, however the council won’t provide these vulnerable youngsters with transport to access potentially best education placements. A frustrating state of affairs which feels like a double no-win situation!
As parents we want our children to grow to be independent of us in the natural way all young people do as they approach their teenage years. However, for many of our deaf youngsters the demarcation line between primary and secondary isn’t the point when they are able to take this monumental step. Our council recently put out a consultation for opinions and suggestions about the services they provide in our area, a prime opportunity for ideas to be shared such as the possibility of a transition package that could offer transport over year 7 and 8 (the first two years in secondary school) alongside an independent travel programme to develop confidence and skills.
Unfortunately the consultation was not sent out to all families who the issues surrounding its services affect, an error which means many valuable pieces of input will have been missed including from parents of deaf young people and the young people themselves. There are compromises which can be made and innovative ways of looking at these support issues but they can only be found through the sharing of knowledge and open lines of communication.
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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