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From toddler groups to finding a nursery

Photo: Millie's story

When choosing toddler groups and a nursery for Millie (4), who is profoundly deaf, dad Matt made sure that they’d help her confidence grow and personality shine.

Helping Millie, who wears cochlear implants, to be confident when she finds herself in new and noisy environments is a top priority for dad Matt. This made choosing the right toddler groups and nursery, with leaders and teachers willing to build great bonds with her, important to Millie’s development. “It’s vital for teachers to bond with Millie and become a friendly face first, before they try to teach her. At nursery, she overcame any shyness she had very quickly because the teacher was focused on building that friendly relationship and embedding her in the class.”

With no history of deafness in the family, once Millie’s deafness was identified by the newborn hearing screening, Matt knew that they had a lot of research to do. “After the initial shock, we started doing our research and looking for the right people to help and the resources for us to get our teeth stuck into,” explains Matt. “Through our research we knew that songs were a great way to make sure that the full range of frequencies and decibel levels were practised, so we selected toddler groups that were music-focused. We combined that with other sensory activities, like using mini climbing frames and balance beams to help with Millie’s balance.

“We’re always thinking of the future and trying to be one or two steps ahead of how she’s developing to prepare her for social interactions in noisy environments. We planned for her to have an activity going on every day of the week that stimulated her senses, to make sure she was used to being in complex sensory environments from an early age.”

All the careful consideration that went into choosing and sticking with certain toddler groups paid off. “She got used to mixing well with everyone, and to see her respond and react in such a positive way to the group leaders, and the joy that she’s getting from the sessions, has been great,” says Matt. “A couple of months into the toddler groups, I was a little bit taken aback by how well she was able to not just cope with the sessions, but really get stuck in.

“I very quickly came to the realisation that this wasn’t going to be as difficult as I had thought it would be. She’s going to be able to take on a lot of these challenges and work a fair few of them out for herself. I’m not going to have to be quite as hands-on in sessions and at school as perhaps I thought I would need to be.”

"We're always thinking of the future and trying to be one or two steps ahead of where she's developing."

With Millie’s personality shining through at her toddler groups, the family knew that they had to get it just as right with their choice of nursery. “We explored a number of local nurseries and went a little bit further afield to ones that we’d heard were very good,” Matt remembers. “We visited them, walked around and spoke to the people who were running the nurseries, spoke to the people that would be looking after her on a day-to-day basis, and got a good understanding of the disability support framework they had.

“Some of the things that we were looking at were the philosophy of the nursery and their goals, which helped us filter out a few. We were looking for environments that had an individual child focus rather than being results-orientated. Establishing the child’s emotional needs, rather than focusing solely on achievements.”

As with toddler groups, one of the most important things they looked for in prospective nurseries was a willingness to accommodate Millie’s needs. “We wanted them to be collaborative and open to working with us, to take new ideas on board, be adaptive and provide regular feedback on her development,” says Matt, “as well as actively wanting Millie in their classroom and being willing to make the necessary adaptations to make it a good environment for her.”

For a brief period during lockdown the family moved Millie to a smaller, home-run nursery with her little sister, Eleanor (2). “We were extremely lucky that the woman who ran the nursery has a deaf daughter with cochlear implants,” explains Matt. “Her daughter is currently doing her A-levels but took the time to hang out and become friends with Millie. We were very lucky in that regard, because it meant that the nursery was keenly aware of what Millie’s needs were during such a difficult time for everyone.”

The family decided, however, that consistency was one of the most important things to focus on in the long term. “The current nursery setting that we’ve decided on for the long term allows her to stay in the same school, with the same group of peers all the way through to Year 11 if we choose. It was clearly one of the key advantages of that nursery and school, that we’ve got consistency with her peers and the teaching staff there.”

Now Millie’s settled into her mainstream nursery, the family feel as though they’ve definitely made the right choice for her. “She loves doing different things every day in such a loving and caring environment,” says Matt. “Some of the teachers really invested in her emotionally and, as a consequence, her confidence has really grown, and with that, her ability to make friends.”