Andy Palmer: As school starts again, my tips for other parents of deaf children

Posted on September 5, 2013

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Andy Palmer - Deputy Editor

It’s that time of year again – back to school time. Yesterday I gave my boy an almost teary but fatherly thumbs up as he walked off down the road towards his new future as a secondary school pupil.

Unlike the first day at primary school, kisses and cuddles are no longer cool. They’d be embarrassing. Actually, is the word ‘cool’ even cool anymore? Or is it ‘sick’ these days? Is ‘sick’ the new ‘cool’ or is ‘cool’ no longer a ‘sick’ word? Oh, I don’t know.. I’m just showing my age.

One thing that is for certain is that things have changed around here in the last seven years. The little boy who ran into my arms at the end of his very first school day now has styled hair, a powerful right foot strike and he can give me a memorable dead leg (if he catches me right). I’m still the boss around these parts though. Occasionally a grimacing and limping boss, but the boss nonetheless.

For those of you taking little deaf children to mainstream primary school today, the power behind junior’s punch or kick is probably not something on your mind, unless its been one of ‘those’ mornings. There is a world of worry going on about how your deaf child will cope in mainstream school. A plethora of considerations and anxieties and rightly so. You need this to go well and so do they.

I’m a veteran of mainstream primary school parenting now. I graduated along with my son at the end of July and I’ve had all summer to think about the experience from a parent’s perspective.

So, if you’re interested, I wrote down the advice that I’d give to anyone if they asked about how to get the best out of it. Here it is!

Use your parental instinct

Be your own parent, do your own thing. Don’t slavishly follow anyone’s advice. Yes, listen to what people have to tell you but a diagnosis of deafness in children does not rob the parents of their own instinct to do what’s right. What works for Johnny over there, may not work for your child. To use another outdated cool word, find your own ‘groove’.

Get to know the staff

You’re in a team now. Team ‘insert your child’s name’. You will have to work with the class teacher, SENCO, Teacher of the deaf, speech therapist, audiologist or implant specialist, one-to-one support worker and potentially the Head Teacher.

Building good relationships with these people helps you to find out what’s going on and keeps you at the centre of decision making. It also means that if you need to bring something up that you think needs addressing or have a concern, then it’s not so hard to get talking about it.

Get to know the new teacher at the start of every year. Drop in on them at the end of the school day and say hello occasionally. It helps.

Say when it’s going right, say when it’s not going right

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The first day at primary school. Both of us had hair.

If you notice something going well – say so. Tell the teacher that you noticed something good or some progress. They like to know when they are doing a good job and its motivating for them, too.

Likewise, if something isn’t going  so  well – tell them quickly and be specific and calm. It can be easy to get emotional when it comes to kids and teachers are trained to manage you when you get upset, but try not to. Just stick to the facts and what you think needs to happen.

Remember that it’s in everyone’s interest to get this right but also remember the school can only do so much – some things cannot be helped.

You’re an expert

You know your child best and you probably know more about hearing loss, deafness or sign language than most of the professionals you’ll come across. If not that – you’ll definitely know more about your own kids at home and what they’re up to. Sharing their progress with teachers is important and motivating.

So don’t be surprised if the teacher has never taught a deaf child before – unless you’re very unlucky, the teacher will be keen to learn and do the best they can. If they’re not – complain. In any case, you’re an important expert in one way or another so don’t be pushed around.

Facilitate friendships

This is a bit of an odd one but, I think, quite important. It has been said that deaf children have trouble making friends in school because of the communication barrier. For many, that’s true so there is no harm in helping the process along a bit.

Make friends with other parents who have kids in the same class as your child and suggest play dates to help the integration. Do it regularly and even hold kids parties at Christmas or Halloween – but put valuable things out of reach or in a cupboard because football is seen by many boys as an indoor sport.

Expect problems and successes

Let’s face it, there are going to be problems along the way and they will make you feel upset or even angry. The anger is best kept in private and emotions are too, if possible. Your role is to bring problems to the school’s attention and help them find resolutions quickly and to your satisfaction. Don’t store it up if it’s important to you but likewise, let it go if it’s really not that important. Choose your battles.

By the same token, have high expectations of the school and expect progress and success to follow. Allow yourself to enjoy it when things go well. While comparisons are not really helpful and ‘success’ is relative to the child, a positive attitude never did anyone any harm. Be positive.

Attend every meeting

Because the one you don’t attend will be the one when they agree that deaf children have to wear a special hat for health and safety reasons. Seriously though, your input in the regular progress meetings is invaluable. They are an opportunity to give feedback and have a direct influence on way your little one will be educated. If you’re not there then you can’t complain when Poppy comes home wearing the new regulation deaf children’s fluorescent-orange health and safety bobble hat.

Finally, let there be no nasty surprises.

If you have communication right between you and the school, there should never be a time when you’re told something negatively surprising about your child’s education because you’d already know how it’s going. That way, the only surprises will be nice ones.

I could go on but I won’t because I’d be here all day. Another good tip is to make contact with NDCS or your local deaf children’s society if it feels right. I did and never looked back. Good luck to you and the deaf children starting out at school this week. If you have any tips – feel free to put them in the comments.

By Andy Palmer, The Limping Chicken’s Deputy Editor.

Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP  (views expressed are his own).

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and blogs website, posting the very latest in deaf opinion, commentary and news, every weekday! Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our supporters here.

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