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William's personalised care

Photo: Rachel and Luke opted for a childminder to look after their son

Rachel and Luke looked into various childcare options for their son William (now 3) when Rachel returned to work. They opted for a childminder and couldn’t be happier with their decision.

Placing her bags down in the hall, Rachel watched William (3) kick off his wellies and run to his toys. “Tractor, Mummy!” he called, looking round, signing ‘blue’ and ‘big’. Rachel found his favourite tractor, helped set up his farm, then pulled the childminder’s diary from her bag and scanned the notes.

Childminder Camilla had recorded details of William’s day: food, naps and activities, including a park outing and learning letters of the alphabet. She’d written extra notes about his hearing aids – ‘changed battery on left hearing aid.’ “We’re a long way from when he started at 12 months old and pulled out his hearing aids five times a day!” says Rachel.

William was diagnosed with severe to profound bilateral hearing loss at eight weeks old and had hearing aids at 12 weeks. Rachel and husband Luke faced the sudden uphill and emotional struggle of parents with no experience of deafness, getting to grips with all the issues around it and meeting William’s needs. They decided signing would help his communication while developing speech and give options when he can’t rely on hearing aids, such as in bed or the bath.

“We wanted someone who understood about William’s hearing loss and was prepared to put in his hearing aids again and again when he pulled them out – personalised care.”

In preparation for Rachel returning to work three days a week – planned for when William was a year old – they started looking into childcare. Rachel’s parents and Luke could do alternate Mondays, so they needed two days of professional childcare. “I had a deep down bias towards a childminder rather than a nursery but we visited two nurseries,” says Rachel. “One Luke hated, the other was a nice set-up but felt institutionalised, with double security to get in and out, like a prison.”

Luke adds, “We wanted someone who understood about William’s hearing loss and was prepared to put in his hearing aids again and again when he pulled them out – personalised care.”

“With the ratio of staff to children, would nursery staff notice if he threw his hearing aids across the room?” says Rachel. “Would they bother putting them back in? There were big noisy rooms, three or four staff in each – we’d have to teach all of them deaf awareness, how to look after William’s hearing aids and basic signs. Staff turnover would mean doing it all over again. And it would be stressful being on time for pick-up, getting caught in a meeting or traffic then fined for lateness.”

"...it gave us confidence that she was patient and had the desire to learn William’s needs.”

The couple decided on the home-from- home setting a childminder could offer, with mixed ages and daily outings, like school runs and playgroup. They felt the quieter, calmer and acoustically softer setting would suit William better.

Locally there were childminders with special educational needs experience but none who were experienced with deafness. Then a friend recommended Camilla. “It was a very homely, relaxed setting. There were lots of animals, just like at home,” says Rachel. “Camilla didn’t have experience of deafness but she’d looked after a boy with diabetes – it gave us confidence that she was patient and had the desire to learn William’s needs.”

During several settling-in sessions, Rachel gave Camilla National Deaf Children’s Society leaflets and showed her how to fit William’s hearing aids and change the batteries, how to use his radio aid and some simple signs.

“She was really keen!” says Rachel. “Her words to us were ‘Welcome to the family.’ She was a bubbly, kind person; it gave us confidence in her.”

William’s Teacher of the Deaf visited to brief Camilla on deaf awareness, then visited every two weeks to work with Camilla and William. Camilla worked hard on William’s speech and learnt basic signs so she could understand him as his speech was developing.

"He suddenly started singing all the nursery rhymes to us; it was lovely.”

Two years on, as they prepare to welcome their second child into the world, Rachel and Luke couldn’t be happier with their choice. William’s speech is on a par with children his age and his signing is good enough to keep up with Luke who’s learning British Sign Language Level 2.

“He’s very interested in everything and he’s a strong character. He’s got two languages to make his needs known and boss us around!” says Luke. “Camilla wears the radio aid when they’re out so he can hear clear speech, particularly in noisy playgroup settings or the car. She’s working through the alphabet with him, developing a scrapbook of words.”

The couple feel the only stumbling blocks would have been the same whatever setting William had been in. “He’s had repeat ear infections but Camilla’s meticulous about giving him prescribed medications. She charges by the hour and accepts late cancellations or reductions in William’s hours when he needs to go to hearing tests or appointments. Camilla’s very flexible; if I’m 15 minutes late she doesn’t bat an eyelid,” says Rachel.

Camilla takes her charges to playgroup regularly and at first during story time, when they all sat in a circle, William would panic and cling to Camilla. “He’s shy in some settings. He wants to fully understand what’s happening as he feels unsure otherwise,” says Rachel. “But Camilla sat with him and let him hold her hand or sit on her lap for reassurance – then taught him the songs at home. He suddenly started singing all the nursery rhymes to us; it was lovely.”

“He’s very happy there, relaxed and confident,” says Luke. “He’ll stay until he starts reception at four. We’ve ended up with a complicated patchwork quilt of childcare options, and we’re very happy with it!”