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Visiting places of worship

Photo: Religion can be an important aspect of a deaf child's identity

Religion is an important part of family life for many people. It can play a big role in shaping identity and providing a valuable sense of community. If your deaf child is visiting a place of worship for the first time, you or they may worry about what will happen there. Some places of worship are very large, echoey or noisy. Often, places of worship use special vocabulary, and sometimes worshippers take part in prayers or readings. There are a few things you can do to help prepare and support your child.

Raj and Sharan explain some of the worries parents of deaf children may have.

“The thought of taking Riaan to the Gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship) for the first time and having all these strangers looking at our baby and thinking he was different wasn’t nice,” Raj says. “But I think that gave us the motivation to become real advocates for hearing loss.”

Speak to a religious leader before you attend your first service

This will help you to find out more about the building and any equipment they might have that could make things easier for your child.

You or your child could ask:

  • Is it possible to sit near the front?
  • Is there any amplification?
  • Is there a hearing loop system in the building? If your child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant has the ‘T’ or ‘MT’ setting enabled, sounds will be amplified and sent directly into their hearing device. You and your child can speak to an audiologist to find out more about the ‘T’ and ‘MT’ settings and to make sure they are switched on and suitable for your child to use.
  • Is any information shown on screens during worship? Is there a printed guide to help your child follow along?
  • Are there any interpreters?

Encourage your child to ask any other questions they may have. It may also be helpful for you and your child to visit a new place of worship together at a quiet time.

Gisela and Maxi (12), who is moderately deaf and wears hearing aids, talk about the adjustments which help him at the Synagogue:

“The weekly service takes place on a Saturday when the use of microphones is not allowed as it’s the Sabbath in Judaism,” says Gisela. “The absence of the microphone can make it difficult for Maxi to follow the service.” Services for special events such as Hanukkah, though, may be on different days and the use of a microphone can be very helpful for Maxi if the volume is properly managed. Maxi always makes sure to sit near the front, facing the Rabbi, so that he can lip-read and, if the Rabbi were to use an FM system, that could help Maxi follow the service too.

The level of noise at large services and celebrations can still be overwhelming, though. “Sometimes, if there are lots of people all in a large, echoey room, the noise can feel like it’s destroying my ear drums,” says Maxi. “It can happen at prayer time in school or at the synagogue. I can stand it for a while, but sometimes I step outside if the noise becomes too much.”

Read Maxi’s story.

Prepare your child for what will take place during a visit

Talk to your child about what to expect at a new place of worship and encourage them to ask questions. This will help them to feel more comfortable during their first visit.

You could try the following suggestions.

  • Look at an order of service, liturgy or prayer book together.
  • Talk about the vocabulary that will be used during worship.
  • Talk about what sounds they might experience – will there be singing, chanting, or music?
  • Prepare for any moments when your child might have to participate. Is there a prayer or part of scripture you can learn in advance?

Here, Husna and Hamza (10), who is profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants, talk about the adjustments which help him at the Mosque.

Sitting at the front of the mosque, Hamza lip-reads the man leading the prayer. “He likes going to the mosque because it’s a routine and a part of our religion,” says mum Husna. “But he did end up just sitting there because he couldn't really pick up on what was being said all the time.” But this year, the family had a plan. They took Hamza's radio aid along to make sure he could hear everything being said.

Read Hamza’s story and find out more about how his family make sure he is fully involved in all aspects of the Eid celebrations.

Check out special services for children and young people

Some places of worship offer a separate service for children and young people. Make sure that the leaders are aware of your child's needs in advance. You may find it helpful to share our deaf awareness flyer.

Encourage your child to ‘boss their deafness’. Talk to them about what to do if their communication needs aren't being met.

Look for British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation

You may be able to find a deaf place of worship near you or which provides BSL interpretation as part of their regular services. It’s worth searching online, as even if you can’t attend in person, you may be able to join in via the internet.

There are also religious BSL resources online of the prayers, songs and readings often found during religious services.

Virtual services

Many places of worship have services you can watch online – either on a video call or as a recorded video. You could try watching a service at home before your first visit, to help your child to feel prepared.

There are lots of captioning services which can make it easier to access video calls. A third-party closed caption service or app might help, such as Otter.ai or Live Transcribe. Encourage your place of worship to use auto-captioning services for any videos they share online.

Practise for special events

If your child is taking part in a special religious event, such as confirmation, baptism, Bar or Bat Mitzvah or First Communion, your place of worship will spend time preparing them for the event and explaining its importance. It may be helpful to reinforce this at home.

  • Make sure your child knows what will happen during the event – you could help them to create their own timeline so they know what will happen and when.
  • Check your child’s understanding of any special vocabulary that will be used.
  • Practise, if possible! Many places of worship will hold practices for important events. If not, try practising at home.
  • Think about clothing – if the ceremony involves special head coverings, check that this doesn’t interfere with your child’s hearing technology. For example, when Hamza goes to the mosque on the morning of Eid, he doesn’t wear a hat like the other men and boys as it would cover his cochlear implants making it difficult for him to hear.
  • If the event involves water or oil, you might like to speak to your religious leader in advance, to make sure they know not to get your child’s hearing technology wet. If your child is participating in an immersive baptism, talk to them and to your leader about the best time to remove their hearing technology.
  • Have a plan in place to make sure your child will understand what’s happening on the day of the event. Can they face the leader during the ceremony to help them lip-read? Can they have a written guide to remind them what’s happening next?

Gisela and Maxi share how he’s preparing for his Bar Mitzvah.

Maxi is learning about his Jewish identity, religion and culture at school. He also takes one-to-one Zoom lessons to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah and learn the prayers he'll read at the service. “I’m excited and a bit nervous about my Bar Mitzvah,” says Maxi. “I’m excited about saying my prayers and giving my speech at the synagogue, but I’d like more time to prepare.”

“We don’t feel that the religious aspects of the Bar Mitzvah will be difficult for Maxi in terms of his hearing loss, but a silent disco will mean he can enjoy the party much more,” says Gisela. “He attended a silent disco to mark the end of primary school and loved being in control of the volume of the music.”

Religious Holidays

Times of celebration can be exciting for children and young people and are an important part of life as they grow up. However, celebrations can also be overwhelming and deaf children can find themselves feeling left out. Visit our celebrations section for more tips.

Religious holidays like Christmas, Easter, Eid, Hanukkah and Diwali, often involve eating together with friends and family, in busy and noisy environments. Here are a few top tips to make sure your child can enjoy the celebration.

  • Have a chat with friends and family in advance and remind them of what they need to do to include your deaf child. You might want to give them our deaf awareness flyer.
  • Encourage your guests to brush up on their British Sign Language (BSL). You could teach some festive signs or share our fingerspelling postcard so that they can learn to fingerspell their names!
  • Think about where your child will sit at the dinner table. Can they see everyone clearly to lip-read or read sign? A round table and good lighting makes it easier to see everyone.
  • Try to reduce background noise. Either keep music on low or turn it off completely during conversation and mealtimes.

Husna explains why it’s important for her family to be deaf aware at religious celebrations and learn some BSL to communicate with Hamza.

With Husna's wider family coming together often for celebrations, it was important to her that her siblings were able to communicate with Hamza, who uses a mixture of speech and BSL.

"I got my brother and sisters to learn BSL," she says. "They're not fluent, but they've got basic signing skills. If there was ever an emergency and he wasn't wearing his implants, they would still be able to communicate.

"It's also making sure you communicate basic tips like talking to him face-to-face, not when you’re behind him. Talking to him normally, not too slowly, not too fast and using the sign for 'again' if you don't understand what he's said. They've been doing it for a long time now so it's natural to them."