Twins Liam and Oscar's different needs
Getting your deaf child into the right school can feel like a daunting task and it’s even tougher when you have twins with different needs. Mum Michelle shares the story of the challenges she faced.
Michelle’s twin boys Liam and Oscar were born premature; weighing less than 2lbs. Due to heart defects both had to undergo major surgery in their first two months.
An infection following surgery caused Liam brain damage and left him blind in his left eye and with impaired vision in his right. At one year old, Liam was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and given splints to help him walk, and later a walking frame and a wheelchair for longer distances.
Then Liam was diagnosed with significant progressive hearing loss in his right ear and moderate loss in his left, and hearing aids helped hugely. The boys learned to sign and developed speech, though Oscar’s was less clear.
“…if they couldn’t hear, how could they learn?”
Both boys went to a private nursery. Determined to secure the best education, Michelle and husband Paul visited local schools but felt none met their needs. “It was tricky, the boys had different needs,” says Michelle.
“But then I realised that while everyone was focusing on Liam’s needs (mobility and vision) it was their hearing that was key. Once Liam was sat in a classroom he’d be fine, he had no learning difficulties – but if they couldn’t hear, how could they learn?”
Because of how much the boys rely on each other for moral support, Liam’s visual impairment teacher felt it best Liam attend a school with a hearing unit, alongside his brother.
The best option was a mainstream primary school with a hearing impaired unit just outside their county but they were refused. A battle began, with Michelle requesting regular meetings with a raft of key people, including two local authority officials from different areas.
Frustrated at the lack of progress, Michelle contacted National Deaf Children’s Society who put her in touch with Children and Families’ Support Officer, Wendy. Wendy supported the family in meetings – making sure they were able to get their views across, helped Michelle understand her legal rights, and provided tools like the National Deaf Children’s Society school checklist.
After revisiting the schools Michelle knew her choice was the right one due to the technology, deaf role models and level of teaching staff who could sign.
After 11 months, their local authority agreed to their chosen school and with support from Wendy the boys got special educational needs (SEN) statements as they started in March.
“They settled in instantly and progressed well.”
Liam receives one-to-one support and both boys spend time in the hearing unit for intensive sign lessons. “They settled in instantly and progressed well,” says Michelle.
“Liam has an interactive magnifier which helps him see teaching materials. All hearing pupils and teachers sign. Oscar receives no extra support – being deaf there is normal.”
Michelle’s confident they’ve made the right decision. “The boys need each other, though they’re very different,” she says. “They were meant to be the boys they are, meant to be different; we teach them that’s a good thing.
The National Deaf Children's Society has been amazing. They’re brilliant when you’re stuck or looking for help – ultimately you have to take responsibility but they enable you.”