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Oliver’s cycling story

Photo: Oliver's story

Deafness needn’t be a barrier to learning to ride a bike. After a wobbly start Oliver (7) is confident cycling to and from school.

Mum Nicky wasn’t surprised when her seven-week-old son Oliver was diagnosed as moderately deaf. “It was a relief to get a formal diagnosis after suspecting. I’d read about how babies should respond to noises and Oliver hadn’t,” she says. “Although it was overwhelming as we had no experience of deafness, it was reassuring to finally know.”

"We don’t want him to think of himself as different."

“Fortunately we came across the National Deaf Children’s Society, which changed our lives for the better,” Dad Mike says.

Both agree that the support of the National Deaf Children's Society has been invaluable. “We’ve got a whole new community of deaf friends,” Nicky says. “Our local deaf children's society, Plymouth and District Deaf Children’s Society (PDCS), has helped all of us. Oliver is part of the mini youth club ‘the Adventurers’ which runs one event a month and this helps with deaf awareness, role models and deaf identity. We don’t want him to think of himself as different. We want him to see other hearing aid users,” adds Mike.

Oliver’s deafness is now severe and he has glue ear on top.” says Nicky. “We sign with him if he says ‘pardon’ and hasn’t understood us. We wanted to equip him with everything so he can choose how he wants to communicate when he’s older,” she adds.

Oliver struggled with balance when he started cycling. “He never got on with a balance bike or with stabilisers,” says Mike. “But after a trip to Center Parcs where the boys enjoyed being in a trailer on the back of a bike, I decided to get a tag-along (an extra wheel and pedals) attached to the back of my bike to pick Oliver up from school.”

“We also tried to encourage him to use the balance bike but he was reluctant,” Nicky adds. “So we bought him a scooter for his fifth birthday which helped with his balance.”

Oliver’s balance and confidence greatly improved. “We bought him the right-sized bike and spent the summer practicing. We talked about the route, roads to cross and the green cross code. We took the bikes up to the school, pushed them for a bit, then rode them, each time riding that little bit further,” says Mike.

"He has no problems cycling now."

“The normal cycle helmets interfered with his hearing aids so we got a BMX one which cuts up behind and doesn’t knock them. It means Oliver can hear as well as without it. PDCS also offered us a high visibility jacket with ‘caution I’m deaf’ written on the back. I didn’t think it would make much difference, but I was surprised that it instantly changed motorists’ attitudes and slowed them down. It also means pedestrians behind him can see it.” Mike also uses the radio aid Oliver uses at school. “I can warn him about things coming up, remind him to look both ways, even encourage him to pedal when he’s tired,” he says.

When school started again, Oliver was happy to cycle home a couple of times a week on the opposite side of the road to Mike where he could see him. “He’s safer on the other side and I can talk to him with the radio aid. On occasions where we can’t use it, like bad weather, we have a different routine for crossing roads. He knows how he can ask for help,” says Mike. “He has no problems cycling now, although sometimes he struggles with pedestrians on the pavement when he says ‘excuse me’, as he might not hear their response.”

Nicky and Mike advise parents not to worry about their deaf child cycling. Nicky says, “It’s about setting boundaries. We’d say ‘cycle to the next lamppost and stop’. We did it in sections to prove trust and that he would stop where he was told.”

The family plan to do even more cycling. “I’ve bought a bike rack for the car so we can do some track riding. I took the boys to the track last weekend. The high visibility jacket was useful there, so others could be aware that Oliver wouldn’t hear bells when they rode up behind him,” says Mike. “And Nicky’s bought a bike now so we can all go off and be more adventurous!”