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Support across the generations for Oliver

Photo: Read Oliver's story

Since grandson Oliver (4) was diagnosed as severely deaf last summer, Maria and husband Keith have supported the whole family in many different ways.

Maria caught grandson Oliver’s eye across the playground and lifted her thumb up to him. He smiled and returned the gesture. Maria knew this meant he was okay and wanted to continue playing. This was just one of the small changes they’d introduced since Oliver was diagnosed as severely deaf.

Oliver passed his newborn hearing screening and it wasn’t until he started pre-school last September that anyone noticed something wrong. “His teacher said to my daughter Jess and son-in-law Dan, ‘Has Oliver got a problem with his hearing? Because he doesn’t respond when I’m talking to him,’” Maria remembers. “And although he’d been vaccinated he’d had mumps a few months before, so we took it further.”

A string of tests to check Oliver’s hearing followed and both Maria and Jess went on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s website to get information. “We were preparing ourselves and it put our minds at rest to see what other deaf children have achieved,” says Maria.

Maria was there with Jess and Dan when they finally received the diagnosis. “I said, ‘Right, what can we do?’” she remembers. “That was my first reaction. I’m a very positive person and I thought: it’s not the end of the world, let’s see what we can do for Oliver.”

"…I thought: it’s not the end of the world, let’s see what we can do for Oliver."

Regularly looking after Oliver and younger sister Thea (2), including overnight, Maria and husband Keith have made other small adjustments to best support Oliver. “We always spoke to the little ones face-to-face at their level anyway, but we now keep the en-suite light on at night for Oliver, so if he wakes he’s got a night light and if he calls me, he can see me coming and read my lips,” says Maria.

“When we take the children to the park or farm and Oliver goes and plays, I make sure we can see each other. I’ll look at him and put my thumb up and he’ll put his thumb up to say he’s OK. If he shakes his head, I know he’s not OK so I’ll go over. Or if he calls me over I put my thumb up so he knows I’ve heard him.”

Something Maria has found challenging is people feeling sorry for Oliver. “People see his hearing aids and say, ‘Ahhh, look at him, he’s deaf, I say, ‘Don’t ahhh him, there’s nothing wrong with him. He can be a little monkey like the rest of them. He’ll do whatever he wants to do in life, so don’t ahhh him,’” she says.

"…some parents get frustrated if they don’t have that support. I think that’s where grandparents can come into it more."

Maria and Keith have supported Jess and Dan in a number of ways. “The first thing was to be really positive for them and also to get them information. I’ve found things and pinged them across and said, ‘Have a look at this, do you reckon it can help Oliver?’” says Maria.

“Oliver loves listening to music so I bought him some plug-in earphones but they weren’t quite big enough to go over his hearing aids, so I said to Jess, ‘Let’s see if we can get the little shoes that go in the bottom of the hearing aids so we can plug them straight in.’ They’re really good. Keith also got some noise-cancelling headphones so you don’t hear any background noise, only the music. We put those on Oliver on top of his hearing aids and he loved it.”

Maria has also supported with Oliver’s appointments, either by driving him and Jess so they haven’t had to worry about parking or, if Jess has been unable to get time off work, taking Oliver herself to get new ear moulds. Maria also went along with Jess to one of the National Deaf Children’s Society’s starting school weekends. “That was great, the speakers were brilliant. It was just really good to see and hear that deafness doesn’t stop someone achieving what they want to,” says Maria.

It was this event that prompted the family’s decision to learn British Sign Language (BSL). “Jess and I discussed it and I said, ‘Let’s see what courses are around.’ But it’s expensive and I thought it would be too much for us all to go. So Keith said he’d do it and then teach the rest of us. He really wanted to do it and he’s been getting on really well. When he teaches the children Oliver laughs but he’s beginning to pick it up. He lip-reads well but there are certain words he gets muddled-up so it could be handy, especially if we go somewhere busy or out for a meal. It also makes you feel you’re doing something to help,” Maria says.

“Oliver’s very lucky he’s got a supportive family and a really good Teacher of the Deaf but I can see how some parents get frustrated if they don’t have that support. I think that’s where grandparents can come into it more. When a parent is down and disheartened and doesn’t know what else to do, it can be good for the grandparents to say, ‘Right, I can get you this information; let me take this on for you – I can fight your corner.’”

Maria advises other grandparents to be supportive, find out all the information they can and to always be positive. “Being deaf isn’t going to stop Oliver from doing anything he really wants to do,” she says. “I say to him, ‘Go out and do whatever you want, whatever you want to achieve, you can achieve.’”