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Callum's different school

Photo: Callum's story

Corinne despaired as she watched her little boy trapped in a lonely, frustrated world of his own – but, after battling to get him support, he’s now a happy teenager and dance superstar!

At the children's party, Corinne spotted her son Callum (then 6) on the dance floor, totally absorbed by the beat of the music, dancing his little heart out. “He’d always loved dancing, was in his own world – it was the only time I ever saw him smile properly,” says Corinne. She found it particularly surprising after finding out, when Callum was six, that he was deaf.

Corinne and husband Simon first became concerned when Callum’s baby babbling didn’t turn into words. At nursery he wouldn’t sit down for story time or singing and his behaviour became very challenging.

“No one could reach him, he was in a bubble,” says Corinne. “Nobody except us understood what he said. But he was sociable and wanted to join in, so he’d get frustrated and throw tantrums.”

Corinne suspected hearing loss and got Callum tested. He wouldn’t sit still so results weren’t conclusive, but doctors diagnosed glue ear and fitted grommets. With no improvement, when Callum started school his behaviour went downhill. “He wasn’t connecting, things spiralled out of control. He’d get angry and lash out when children tapped him for his attention,” says Corinne.

"No one could reach him, he was in a bubble."

Callum started speech therapy, which proved a lightbulb moment. “I learnt about hearing impairment related behaviour and recognised Callum – not turn-taking, lashing out,” says Corinne. “He’d only engage when we were close to him, and wouldn’t look us in the eye – he was reading our lips. He learnt odd words but mispronounced them; his baby brother’s name Ollie came out as ‘Kai’.

Callum hated school and became a depressed five-year-old. It was heartbreaking; we didn’t know how to help him. Family life suffered, Simon and I were arguing continuously through the stress. It was a hideous couple of years.”

In desperation, Corinne went privately to an ENT consultant who did a hearing test under anaesthetic for accuracy. When he told her Callum was permanently deaf, with a moderate loss, Corinne was devastated. “I burst into tears, my world had ended. But when Callum got hearing aids it was amazing. He looked at me stunned and said ‘Mummy, you sound funny!’ He was mesmerised by the sounds he could hear.”

Callum’s speech and behaviour improved, though he was still 18 months behind. A Teacher of the Deaf gave Corinne information and contacts, including for the National Deaf Children’s Society. Corinne read everything she could and scoured the internet.

“I discovered Callum could get a Statement of Special Education Needs (SEN) and assumed the school would apply but they said he didn’t need one,” says Corinne. “Doctors arranged counselling for anger issues which was helpful but he was still finding his way through the challenges of life as a deaf child. Then children started bullying him because of his hearing aids – I was so desperate to get him help.”

Then when Callum was eight, Corinne managed to get him, and Ollie, into another school. “Callum was so happy; his life began that day!” says Corinne. “The teacher said children were curious about his hearing aids and suggested he give a talk – Callum was delighted, stood in front of the class and explained about his ‘robot ears’. He was a superstar; they all wanted to whisper into his ears! It also made Ollie, as his brother, feel special; the two of them really bonded.”

For two years Callum progressed and continued to enjoy dance at the street dance club he attended. His confidence soared. But secondary school loomed and Corinne worried about finding one where he’d

Then she discovered she could get funding for some private schools and after applying to the local authority and various trusts, she applied for a place for Callum at the Italia Conti Theatre School. They agreed an audition, and Corinne did everything possible to prepare Callum for it, including getting him ballet lessons.

"We’ve fought back… things can get better, there are successes."

Callum aced the audition and took up his place in 2015. Now aged 13, as well as excelling in jazz and street dance, he’s getting As and Bs in schoolwork, and doing amazingly in Spanish. Earlier this year he was thrilled to get his first job, an advert for CBBC, which is due to be screened this autumn.

“If anyone asked me a few years back, I’d never have said life could be this good. Our son was desperately unhappy, our marriage was feeling the strain, we were struggling to find a way through – disastrous. But look now! We’ve fought back, we’ve found support and guidance; things can get better, there are successes. You become stronger.

“Sadly, we’ve found out Callum’s deafness is due to a rare gene and is progressive. His hearing loss is now severe and he will become profoundly deaf at some point. It’s a hideous waiting game, but I’m learning British Sign Language, have just finished Level 1, and am teaching Callum and the
family.

“I told Callum what it meant and he was very upset, but the next day he forgot about it and got on with school, which he loves.

He’s a beautiful dancer with incredible rhythm. He also sings beautifully, which is really special for a deaf child – I didn’t know until I saw him performing in a school play. I burst into tears! He’s an incredibly happy boy and making the most of every moment.”