Izzy’s parents' sibling strategies
Having a deaf child in the family means changes to everyday life and can cause jealousy and resentment in hearing siblings. Jasmine and Darren have strategies to make sure daughter Izzy’s deafness won’t overshadow her sister Maisy.
“It’s tricky, with Izzy being severely deaf, she needs so much attention,” says Jasmine. “As well as making sure Izzy’s included in what’s going on around her, there are all the hospital appointments, visits from her Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) and speech and language therapist, and hours of exercises they set.”
The couple were shocked when, at four weeks old, Izzy was diagnosed as deaf and given hearing aids. “We were struggling to come to terms with Izzy’s deafness, but knew we had to be open and honest with Maisy.
“It’s tricky, with Izzy being severely deaf, she needs so much attention.”
“We kept it simple, said Izzy’s ears don’t work properly and she has to wear these sparkly glittery things in her ears. She got it straightaway and would tell people ‘Izzy’s ears are rubbish!’ We explained we had to face Izzy when we spoke and use facial expressions to help her understand.”
At six months old doctors confirmed Izzy’s deafness was severe and that she had Pendred syndrome, so her hearing might deteriorate.
The couple decided to learn sign language; Jasmine studied British Sign Language Level 1 and they, along with both grandmothers, went on a basic Family Sign Language course.
“Speech is our main way of communicating, so that’s our goal for Izzy, but for noisy places – restaurants, swimming, at nursery – some sign is useful, and she’ll have it if she goes down the sign language route in the future,” Darren says.
“We taught Maisy some signs, but in a fun way in ‘action’ songs so she didn’t feel it was something she had to do because of Izzy.
Maisy forgets Izzy can’t hear without her ‘ears’ in, so at bath times we tell her ‘if Izzy snatches your toy or pulls your hair, make an ‘angry’ or an ‘ouch!’ expression to communicate’.”
To head off any jealousy Maisy might feel about Izzy getting attention, the couple make the most of the children’s grandparents, who all live nearby and are a great support.
“At hospital appointments, rather than Maisy getting bored and resentful, I drop her at her grandparents’ with a new game and she gets all their attention to herself,” says Jasmine.
“I’ll suggest she goes and plays with Lego while Izzy’s not there taking all the bits.”
“Sometimes they have her when the Teacher of the Deaf or speech therapist visits because Maisy interrupts and wants to show them things, so I have to tell her ‘They’re here for Izzy.’ Other times, I’ll suggest she goes and plays with Lego while Izzy’s not there taking all the bits.”
One big change to family life is trying to maintain a good listening environment wherever possible. “While cooking I used to turn up the music, dancing and singing around the kitchen with Maisy, but we’ve scaled that back,” says Jasmine.
“We switch off the TV after breakfast and Maisy hasn’t protested since we explained it’ll help Izzy hear better.
"Now Izzy’s getting older and playing with other children, it’s tricky because you can’t walk into a party and ask them to stop the noise!”
“She helps Izzy repeat words and likes to play teacher.”
The couple are constantly making efforts to make sure Maisy isn’t affected by Izzy’s deafness and are careful not to load her with responsibility.
“Izzy and Maisy are so different; Izzy’s a whirlwind, headstrong, leaps into everything, while Maisy is quieter, caring and likes to help. It’s lucky it’s that way round!
"She helps Izzy repeat words and likes to play teacher. Izzy’s speech is three months behind hearing children of her age, sometimes only family can understand what she’s saying, so Maisy translates for her.
"In the car if we’re singing, I’ll ask Maisy to do actions so Izzy can join in. She tells tales which is useful! When Izzy takes her hearing aids out, Maisy comes to tell me ‘her ears have gone,’ or she’ll put them back in for her,” says Jasmine.
“We’re trying hard not to treat them differently because Izzy is deaf.”
“It’d be easy to fall into the trap of getting Maisy to do something just because she can hear me, like if they’re upstairs. Sometimes I ask Izzy to tidy up her toys and she’ll pout and sort of smirk, because she doesn’t want to do it, but I insist. Maisy says ‘I’m always doing it’ and I don’t want her to end up with a chip on her shoulder.
“I think Maisy’s had to grow up quickly in some ways, but she’s still a normal four-year-old. On Fridays Darren and I take it in turns to have one-to-one time with Maisy – she loves her Daddy dates!
“We’re trying hard not to treat them differently because Izzy is deaf. Like any child, Maisy’s nose could be put out of joint by a younger sibling, deaf or hearing, so we’re careful in the same way as any parent would be to try to stop that happening. It’s important for all children, not just deaf children.”