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A chaotic Christmas

Rhys' story

In this short video, Sara explains how she's preparing to make this Christmas inclusive for deaf son Rhys.

Every family Christmas is special, but for Sara, Lee and their family it’s going to be extra special this year. Both are NHS workers – Sara is a cardiac nurse and Lee a paramedic – and their shifts don’t always coincide. But this year, they’re both off for Christmas and with three boisterous boys, it’s set to be a riot!

“It’ll be carnage!” laughs Sara. “Our work means some Christmases we’re not all together, so when we are it’s extra special! Rhys and the boys are even more excitable – meaning a very loud house!”

Rhys has moderate to severe hearing loss and glue ear so his hearing fluctuates; he's worn hearing aids since he was six weeks old. Sara learnt British Sign Language (BSL) as part of her job as a nurse, and taught Rhys to sign from the beginning. He has speech and language delay, but with regular speech and language therapy, his speech has improved and his confidence has grown. His progress at school is on a par with his peers, which is all the more impressive as Rhys attends a Welsh language school in North Cardiff.

“We’re English speakers but wanted the boys to learn Welsh,” says Sara. “Rhys’s last report was brilliant, his vocabulary is great, just the fluidity a little behind. His brothers have always spoken up for him when he struggled, now he insists on doing it himself.”

The family is full of praise for the school, which goes to great measures to be deaf-friendly. Rhys, who has a special educational needs (SEN) statement and 1:1 support, recently gave a talk to his class about deaf awareness. Then last Christmas, the school taught the children festive songs in Welsh, along with accompanying BSL signs.

"Our work in the NHS means some Christmases we’re not all together, so when we are it’s extra special!"

“They performed Walking in the Air in Welsh and BSL, it was amazing!” says Sara. “The teachers made sure Rhys sat at the front so he could see us and his teacher as she wore the radio aid.

But they’re very careful to not make Rhys feel singled out because of his hearing loss.”

The family can’t wait to shake off the stress of the last year and celebrate Christmas again!

“Early on in the pandemic, so much was unknown,” says Sara. “It was worrying, both working in the NHS and Lee on the frontline, helping people who had virus symptoms. It was frightening; what were we exposing the kids to? We tried to leave it all at work, not talk about it, educate the kids about hygiene, explain they can’t hug their grandparents, and our jobs meant a higher risk of contracting the virus.”

Sara uses the tips on our website, along with her own experience with Rhys, to make sure everyone has a good time at Christmas.

“We find taking time to explain to Rhys and the boys what’s planned over this period is essential,” Sara says. “Sometimes Rhys might miss what’s being said to him, especially if he’s engrossed in something.

“We get his full attention before we speak, making sure there’s no distraction, engaging him by sitting close and having eye contact. We’ve explained to his brothers that being loud and speaking over Rhys can impact on him being able to interact with the family on the day.

"Rhys’s deafness brings us together as a family."

“Normally our extended family visit and it’s lovely to see how they’ve adapted to how Rhys responds and acts. As well as Lee and me, Rhys’s grandparents, brothers and cousin have either completed a course or are continuing to learn BSL.

“We don’t use radio aids at home, we’ve simply shared our knowledge with the family on how to be deaf aware, for example, giving Rhys time to answer questions, being specific in what they ask, not speaking with food in their mouth, not jumping from one topic to another, and to always include him in conversation to avoid him feeling left out. Rhys wants to talk about the toys he got like any child, just listen and give him time to speak and answer.

“Last Christmas, at dinner I sat him next to my niece Sophie (10) who’s quiet and attentive; she came to family sign language lessons with us. She’ll tap him, say, ‘We’re talking about this or that,’ and she makes sure to keep him in the loop.”

After a successful celebration last year, Sara has tips for other families this Christmas, whether or not we can see wider family. “Try to explain what you’re doing throughout the day, down to where nan and gramps are sitting at the table, what food you’re cooking, and the games you’re going to play – a deaf child needs repetition of words to increase their vocabulary and grow in their development.

“We don’t always get it right and for some reason we all put even more pressure on ourselves at Christmas – just try to relax and don’t worry if you have to repeat yourself a few times over Christmas dinner, that’s what it’s like to have children!

“Learn from them too. Having a deaf child is unique and every day I learn from how a child with a hearing loss finds their way in the world. All our children are individual and I feel Rhys’s deafness brings us together as a family as we all have common goals, and that’s to respect and treat each other as equals.”

Photo: Rhys and his mum on a Christmassy walk