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Daisy’s support to learn to swim

Photo: Daisy's story

Wendy and Fred’s severely deaf daughter Daisy (6) is becoming an excellent swimmer. But turbulent waters initially lay between Daisy and the support she needed.

Thinking back to Daisy’s diagnosis, Wendy remembers it as a difficult time. “I was devastated to be honest. It was missed under her newborn hearing screening and diagnosed at five and a half months, but by then Fred and I knew. We’re both musicians and unbeknown to each other had the same suspicions. “We’d clap loudly and play instruments – there’d be no response,” Fred continues.

"Getting the hearing aids was like switching on a light bulb.”

“After five and a half months, getting the hearing aids was like switching on a light bulb,” Fred recalls. “By the time she was one, she’d used her first sign, ‘bird’, and attempted to say the word as well. That was a lump in the throat moment. We’d talk to Daisy a lot and by using Makaton and flashcards too, her communication started to develop.”

Daisy needed a lot of Fred and Wendy’s attention early on and they worried about the impact this may have on their hearing son Kris, 10.

“We looked for sibling support for Kris and he met other children whose siblings had disabilities. As a parent you can only do so much – they need to be with other children facing the same things.”

Since then, the family have found great support through their local deaf children’s society. “It’s a nice social circle for all the family, not just Daisy.”

Swimming lessons brought the next challenge for the family.

“Daisy never liked swimming as a baby and was quite fretful when I took her to a big pool,” Wendy remembers. “After making enquiries, I found a special needs school that let us use their hydrotherapy pool. It was brilliant for Daisy as it was small and quiet. Her confidence grew, but it took a long time for her to get used to a bigger pool without her aids.

“She started swimming at the leisure centre 18 months ago and it was really tough to start with. They seemed reluctant to include her in mainstream lessons, and actually suggested private lessons and quoted a price! After much persistence they agreed to include her in mainstream lessons, but we still had to explain further why she needed me to sign at the poolside,” says Wendy.

“The cover teacher hadn’t been told that there was a deaf child in the class."

After a shaky start, Daisy thrived in lessons. “The swimming teacher uses gestures, and Daisy’s first in line in the pool so she’s nearest the teacher. She lipreads the teacher and also watches the other children.” But more difficulties were to come.

“Daisy found it really hard when a cover teacher took over the lesson,” says Wendy. “We really can’t fault her normal swimming teacher, but the cover teacher hadn’t been told that there was a deaf child in the class, so hadn’t had any deaf awareness training.

“We’d love the leisure centre to run basic deaf awareness training for all staff and to read the National Deaf Children’s Society's resources. Another deaf child swims there too, so it’s not only Daisy who’d benefit. We’ve come a long way, though, and are so proud of her. She’s recently been moved up a level and thoroughly enjoys swimming.”

“The big thing now is deaf awareness.”

Wendy and Fred have also seen a big improvement in Daisy’s confidence – she stood in front of her new swimming group while her teacher told the class she’s deaf.

“That was a big milestone,” Fred confirms. “The teacher explained to everyone that Daisy couldn’t hear very well, and that they needed to look at her and talk clearly. It was brilliant.”

“Now Daisy’s six we’re in a comfortable place. She and Kris are really close, and she’s doing well at school. She has a fantastic learning support assistant who uses some Sign Supported English and lots of gestures. And she makes good use of her radio aid so she can hear the teacher and be included in partner work. Her speech has come on well too, so we really couldn’t ask for more.

“The big thing now is deaf awareness, and I’ve written some articles for the village magazine and given some talks,” Wendy reveals. “A lot of people didn’t know how to respond to Daisy’s deafness and seemed embarrassed to ask about it. The articles have really helped,” Fred concludes.