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Elliot's glue ear journey

Photo: Read Elliot's story

After Elliot (6) experienced a difficult start to school, his parents soon realised something was behind his out-of-character behaviour.

Sitting in the audience Karen and Andrew were shocked and delighted to see their son Elliot up on stage dancing and singing in the Nativity play. Just the year before he’d been sat on the sidelines refusing to go on stage and looking unhappy. Now he was joining in with his classmates.

Elliot seemed to first start having problems with his hearing when he joined primary school at four years old. “Elliot had started school and wasn’t particularly enjoying it,” Karen explains. “He hadn’t had any problems at preschool and met all his developmental milestones. We knew something wasn’t right but we had no idea what.“

His teacher was saying he was ‘odd’ and naughty, that he couldn’t count or read. But at home, where it’s quiet and calm, he could do it. The behaviour issues baffled me because he could play well with friends and his sister Annie at home and in the park with other children. If you looked at his report on leaving pre-school alongside his first assessment at school, they looked like they were about two different children.”

"The glue ear diagnosis was a lightbulb moment."

It was when Elliot had a routine hearing test at school that the nurse suggested there might be a problem. “It was a bit of a lightbulb moment; it suddenly made sense,” Karen says. We went to the audiology clinic for further tests and that’s where they confirmed the diagnosis of glue ear.”

The audiologist told Karen that Elliot had a mild hearing loss caused by glue ear and advised the family to try watchful waiting, a period of monitoring his hearing and having regular check-ups to see if the glue ear improved without needing treatment.

“Initially we thought ‘fair enough,’ we’ll review in three months and now we know what it is we can have a sensible, rational discussion with his teacher and put things in place to support Elliot,” Karen says. “The audiologist explained how previously people had gone down the road of grommets but locally that wasn’t something they offered anymore.”

Karen approached Elliot’s teacher with the diagnosis and discussed ways he could be supported, suggesting he was acting up because he was finding it difficult to hear the class and not because he couldn’t do it. However unfortunately things didn’t improve at school. “We weren’t impressed with how the school handled his behaviour at this time, seemingly ignoring all the evidence we were providing that highlighted that Elliot’s behaviour was out of character and because of the glue ear.

"The effects of hearing loss can be very misunderstood."

“We were surprised by the teacher’s lack of understanding and the impact this can have on learning,” Karen adds. “The effects of hearing loss can be very misunderstood.”

Karen and Andrew began to worry about Elliot falling behind so they helped him practise numbers and phonics at home. “Elliot never really liked the academic side of things,” Karen explains. “So we got Star Wars writing and number books to make it more fun and did treasure hunts to help him follow numbers in the right order.”

It was soon time for Elliot to move up to Year 1. “We started Year 1 afresh and with a different teacher who had a completely different attitude,” Karen says. “She wanted to work with us, listened and established the best ways to support and reassure Elliot.

“I found the National Deaf Children’s Society through a Google search and gathered together lots of information from their resources. I took them into school and we said ‘snap!’ because the teacher had done the same.

“One thing that’s really helped is the personal passport. I made one about Elliot and his needs and his teacher shared it with staff at the school, with tips like talking face-to-face, not covering your mouth, those sorts of things. That was a groundbreaking moment really when the school started taking it more seriously.”

Elliot’s Year 1 teacher spent that first half-term gaining Elliot’s trust and helping to transform his school life. “She asked Elliot’s class to put their hands on their ears when she was talking so they could experience not being able to fully hear like him,” Karen says. “We also bought books about deaf children like Daisy & Ted’s Awesome Adventures and she read them with the class. She paid attention to where Elliot is located in the classroom as well, making a point of speaking to him directly and thinking about acoustics.”

But while things were improving at school, Elliot’s hearing wasn’t getting any better. “Mild hearing loss doesn’t sound bad but actually it had a significant impact,” Karen explains.

“After a year of appointments I’d had enough of watchful waiting. I mentioned hearing aids to the doctor and he agreed we could go down that route.”

Elliot was fitted with hearing aids quickly and the family noticed an immediate difference. “It wasn’t until then that we truly appreciated what Elliot had been missing out on, things like hearing his fish splash in the tank, the ‘snap, crackle and pop’ of his cereal, cars outside the window and even his wee when he went to the toilet!

“He’s come a long way in the last year, it’s helped finding an amazing teacher and getting his hearing aids, but he’s still got some catching up to do,” Karen says. “I’d say to any other parent, if you think something isn’t right or you disagree with what somebody is describing, you know your child best so stick up for them.”