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Conor's confidence trip

Photo: Conor and his family at the beach.

Siobhan and husband Brian were concerned son Conor (11) would miss out when he was too anxious to join his classmates on his first school residential trip – but thanks to his dedicated teaching assistant, adjustments enabled him to participate.

Siobhan waved as Conor set off in the car heading to Dorset for a school trip to a World War Two (WW2) themed experience. It was a three-day residential, but Conor was scared to spend nights away from home. So, thanks to Teaching Assistant Keira, with lots of adjustments and preparation, he was joining them for one day.

“Conor was adamant he wasn’t going,” says Siobhan. “But the trip was  important, a chance to bond with friends and be independent.” 

Diagnosed as profoundly deaf at six weeks old, Conor had cochlear implants at 18 months. “Conor found school difficult, initially,” says Siobhan. “He had a two to three-year speech delay so his speech wasn’t level with his peers. He’s always been very shy, like his sister Sinead who’s 14. But it’s an excellent school, and Conor’s Teacher of the Deaf trained them on deaf awareness. They improved acoustics and adapted the curriculum to suit him – he’s a very visual learner.”

With the help of a radio aid, 28 hours per week one-to-one support in his Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, and lots of input at home, Conor progressed. He joined in sports and made friends. Then came the trip last October, to support their Year 6 topic on WW2.

“Conor refused to go. He was worried about managing his hearing equipment, being somewhere unfamiliar, sharing a room and total deafness at night,” Siobhan explains.

So, the school arranged with the trip venue to make an exception and have Conor there as a day visitor. The school paid expenses, like petrol and car insurance, and agreed to release a second staff member for the journey with Conor.

When the rest of the class set off, Conor and Keira stayed in school, watching videos of the venue to familiarise him with the layout. Using pictures, they discussed activities, the timetable, the two-hour journey, listed anything he’d need and talked about any worries.

Once there, Conor handed his radio aid to the tutors and spent one-to-one time with them as they explained the tasks and crafts. He took part in all of the activities – role-play, craft and cooking, learning about rationing and baking with limited ingredients.

Simulating an air raid could have been problematic as there were loud sirens and the group had to get to shelter in a cellar. So Keira briefed Conor about the noise, steep steps, the small, dark enclosed space and how they’d pass time playing games and singing.

Conor then spent free time with the friends he’d have shared a dormitory with. “He began to wish he’d opted to stay, as it was the first time away for many of them,” says Keira.

The evening was a celebratory feast for VE Day, with bunting, music and dancing. After dinner, an outdoor murder mystery orienteering event presented more fun and challenges. Being outside at night in small groups, with adults supervising from a greater distance, could have been an issue, but Conor enjoyed using a torch and being with his friends. They made sure he knew where the meeting points were and it was an exciting, empowering experience.

After a long, exhilarating day, Conor arrived home at 11pm exhausted but very happy. “I think the trip gave Conor great insight and inspired more self confidence in him to ‘have a go’. He was surprised at how the experience of being with friends, away from home and family, inspired such comradeship and brought the children closer,” says Keira.

“It was only made possible with the help and cooperation of the school, teachers, trip venue, his Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), parents and teaching assistants. But with careful planning and orchestration, it enabled Conor to be totally included in such a positive, enlightening experience.”

“He’s really grown in confidence – the trip was massive for him,” Siobhan adds. “As scared as he was, he didn’t want to come home! He absolutely loved it. It encouraged his friendships to grow even more in a different setting away from school. He felt included.

“After the trip he lost his fear of new things; he’s willing to try new experiences."

“After the trip he lost his fear of new things; he’s willing to try new experiences, such as going for a meal and to the cinema. Now if he can’t hear you, he’ll say so, or that you need to turn up the radio aid – it’s a huge step for him.

“He even spoke to the TV news about the trip. Every little thing he does is a big thing. This last year we’ve seen a massive change in him; he’s more independent in so many ways. He’ll say, ‘I can do it for myself Mum, I’ll ask if I want help!’ He applies himself to his homework, gets his own breakfast or makes his packed lunch. He’s working hard, preparing for SATs without me pushing him.

“He’s very funny, witty, and even more so after the trip. His confidence has increased greatly. He’s started to see he can do anything at all. He’ll do an impression of my Dublin accent, he’s hilarious! My ma talks with him on Skype and she really noticed the change in him chatting away to her.

“Keira is amazing, she encouraged him and said how beneficial the trip would be. She’s gone above and beyond with the work she’s done with Conor. She’s intent on doing what’s best for him. She puts in time, effort and resources, day-to-day, all the hours she’s with him. And it’s paid off, we’ve seen Conor’s confidence grow hugely.”