Aisha's new school
When her daughter started secondary school, Rozena saw her change from a happy girl into a sad, lonely teenager. It took three years of battling, but now 13-year-old Aisha’s back on track and happier than ever.
Aisha was diagnosed profoundly deaf at eight months old, leaving Rozena and husband Aamir despairing, with no experience of deafness, not knowing how to cope. But with help from her Teacher of the Deaf (ToD), they’d learnt some basic signs and with facial expression and lipreading, slowly Aisha’s communication had developed.
By the time Aisha had a cochlear implant fitted, aged nearly four, she struggled to adapt. “She rebelled, kicking and screaming,” recalls Rozena. But when baby sister Mahnoor was born hearing, Aisha adored her and had an incentive to keep her implant switched on.
Mainstream nursery, with a deaf unit, helped too and speech emerged. “When Aisha started making two-word sentences it was fantastic,” says Rozena, who gave birth to another daughter, Roohi, the following year, also profoundly deaf.
Quiet and shy, Aisha would sit and watch other children without the confidence to approach them, but despite a four year gap in language and mental ability, she progressed well through primary school.
“She didn’t understand what her teachers were saying.”
For secondary school transition, Rozena wanted more support in Aisha’s statement so she phoned the National Deaf Children's Society for help. “They allocated us a Children and Families Support Officer, Angie – she was lovely, kind and passionate about getting Aisha the right support,” says Rozena.
Aisha happily started school, but within days her excitement vanished and she’d come home in tears. “She was overwhelmed,” says Rozena. “It was vast; hundreds in her year and only twice-weekly visits from her ToD. She said she didn’t understand what her teachers were saying.”
After consulting with Angie, Rozena raised her concerns with the school. They’d provided just one 10-minute session for some teachers on how to support a deaf child; refused the ToD’s offer of deaf awareness training; and Aisha’s support worker wasn’t trained, other than a basic sign language course. “They said give it time for Aisha to settle. So I agreed, staying quiet through year seven,” says Rozena.
"Children were making nasty comments and hiding her radio aid."
It was a demanding year for Rozena – with Roohi in year one, having her fourth daughter, Ayra, also profoundly deaf and then finding herself pregnant again. Aisha continued to struggle and children were making nasty comments and hiding her radio aid. But when questioned, the school said she was making progress and had friends. They told her they would speak to the children concerned, though Rozena felt they thought Aisha was being oversensitive.
In Year 8, things worsened. A new ToD was very worried about Aisha; she wasn’t getting the correct support.
“The teachers were turning away when they spoke but Aisha would never say anything, she didn’t have the confidence,” says Rozena. “She’d been moody, frustrated, snapping at everyone, no time for her sisters. She finally admitted she hated school, she didn’t understand the teachers. She felt isolated – the children didn’t want her in their groups because she was deaf. She had no real friends and spent breaks and lunchtimes alone.”
The school refused to acknowledge the problems, but Aisha grew unhappier and started making excuses to avoid school. “She felt ill, had headaches, her implant hurt,” recalls Rozena. “It was affecting the whole family; the children saw me in tears and were sad their big sister pushed them away.”
“We’re not just a school, we’re a community."
Finally, after a meeting where she felt the school weren’t interested in her concerns, Rozena decided to change schools. Using the National Deaf Children’s Society information guidelines, she found a local mainstream school that was newly-built with good acoustics.
“Aisha was scared,” says Rozena. “She thought all high schools would be horrible. But after we met with SENCO she said ‘I’m going to like it!’ The SENCO answered every question, listened to us and asked how to help. Aisha was scared she wouldn’t make friends but the SENCO reassured her, 'We’re not just a school, we’re a community.’”
Aisha started in April and hasn’t looked back. She now receives full-time support and was placed in the year below to help her catch up.
“Just showing kindness towards her, understanding her needs and taking action on advice given by her ToD was amazing,” says Rozena. “Now Aisha loves school and wishes she could go at weekends! She’s gone from a sad, lonely little girl to a happy, confident young lady. She now speaks up if she doesn’t understand her teachers and has made a lovely group of friends. My mistake was sending her to a high-achieving school when her abilities were four years behind. They just dragged her along.”
With son Isaam also diagnosed deaf, Rozena has four profoundly deaf children, but she’s not fazed.
“It’s God’s will,” she says. “I’ve gained strength and knowledge. The National Deaf Children’s Society helped so much, including family weekends and fun days which have been so informative and inspiring. I’d say to any parent, go to the National Deaf Children’s Society. They’re incredible. Angie was the backbone of our success. Now Aisha has become the child I knew she could be and I know it’ll be the same for all my children.”