With 12-year-old deaf Alex’s teenage years around the corner, mum Lynn’s discovered that technology can be a big part of a deaf child’s journey to independence.
Although Alex has been deaf since he was a toddler, Lynn found that the move to secondary school brought many new challenges. With a new building, lots of new teachers to meet and friends to make, she didn’t want Alex’s hearing to be a barrier to him becoming independent.
“Alex lost his hearing through meningitis,” Lynn reports. “It was a really traumatic time for us as a family. He was on life support for six days and we didn’t know whether he’d make it. It took nine months for him to recover and he had to learn to do everything again.
“We’d been used to Alex hearing everything we said, responding to sounds, and developing clear speech. When that was taken away, we found it hard to adapt to his needs. But we’re very lucky that his hearing loss is the only long-term effect.”
During Alex’s nine month recovery, Lynn and Phil realised that he wasn’t hearing them – he wasn’t responding to things as he did before and had become a much quieter little boy.
“It must have been very strange for him to suddenly experience the world differently.”
“He would just go into his own world,” Lynn remembers. “He was outgoing before contracting meningitis but afterwards he wouldn’t talk to us, which was the first sign that his hearing had been affected. It must have been very strange for him to suddenly experience the world differently.
“He’s still a quiet boy now. Sometimes his responses are delayed while he takes things in – he has a tendency to hang back and absorb things.
“Lots of Alex’s classmates at school had never seen hearing aids before meeting him, so he’s often the centre of attention when he doesn’t want to be. But he’s calm and copes well – we’re proud of him.
“He’s profoundly deaf in his left ear and has a high frequency loss in his right ear. He has some residual hearing on the right side, and uses a hearing aid in that ear to maximise what he has.
“It’s hard for us to know exactly what he hears, but in a loud room with lots of people he struggles. He’ll nod politely, then turn to us and ask what’s going on,” Lynn says. “Often, in that situation, he’ll switch off because concentrating so intently on what’s going on is really tiring.”
Many families find their child’s move to secondary school a difficult time and Lynn, Phil and Alex were no different.
“The move to secondary school was a bit daunting for us as everything was new.”
“At primary school Alex had the same teacher for everything, which made things easier. Although he’s always attended mainstream schools, his teachers have been great at involving him and adapting to his needs – they’ll find out what he needs in order to learn and make sure he sits at the front. The move to secondary school was a bit daunting for us as everything was new.”
The transition prompted Lynn to research any additional support available for Alex.
“We’re aware of Alex getting older – he’ll be 13 this year. We want to make sure he can live independently and doesn’t rely on us for everything. In group situations he uses us as a comfort blanket to help him keep up, and we’d like him to need us less and less.
“That’s where our discoveries in the world of technology have been helpful. The products we’ve discovered mean Alex can be more independent with everyday things.
“We knew Alex wasn’t getting as much enjoyment out of watching TV as he could, and we wanted him to be able to talk to his classmates about programmes they’d watched, that kind of thing.
“Tom and Jerry and Mr Bean used to be his favourite TV programmes – mainly because of the lack of talking. He could easily follow them. He also loves things that are visual and action-based, like James Bond and sports.
“It wasn’t that he wouldn’t have enjoyed other things – he just wasn’t able to access them independently. He would always ask us what was going on, which was frustrating for him.”
That’s when Lynn came across our Technology Test Drive, which loans products to members so children can try them out before families commit to them. “When we realised that such a thing as a TV listener existed, we thought we’d give it a go. We’ve been amazed – it’s been brilliant for Alex.
“The products we’ve discovered mean Alex can be more independent with everyday things.”
Geography is one of his favourite subjects and we’re thrilled that he’s now able to enjoy David Attenborough shows and other educational programmes. Watching TV as a family is now a much better experience for us all.
“He uses lots of other technology too – his school has a Soundfield system that he and the other deaf student at the school benefit from; he has a radio aid, which he finds really helpful in class; and a ‘shoe’ that plugs into his hearing aid.
"The shoe means he can use a lead to connect his iPod or mobile phone to his hearing aid, just as if he were using earphones. It helps him feel the same as other children his age.
“The technology we’ve used has opened up a new world for Alex and we’re looking forward to trying other products. The next thing we’d like to try is a vibrating alarm clock. At the moment I take Alex to school every day so I wake him up in the mornings,” Lynn reflects. “But it would be nice for him to be independent in getting himself up.
“The technology we’ve used has opened up a new world for Alex.”
“There are improvements to be made with the products we’ve tried, but things are moving quickly. We’re going to keep a close eye on new developments so Alex accesses as much as he can.”
Looking back on how far they’ve come, Lynn ponders other support available. “We’ve never signed with Alex, but it’s definitely something we’d consider. He’s now becoming confident enough to tell us what he wants and if something doesn’t work for him.
"We do often wonder what life would be like for him if he hadn’t lost his hearing. Would he find group situations easier? Would he be more confident?
"But there’s lots of support out there for him, and we’re going to do as much as we can to prepare him for a happy, independent future.”