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Cobie's deaf awareness raising at school

Photo: Cobie set an excellent example of how to face up to challenges.

When Cobie (13) had a hard time settling in at secondary school due to a lack of deaf awareness he took matters into his own hands by educating staff and pupils on how to communicate with him better.

Mum Leisa was surprised when her eight-week-old baby, Cobie, was diagnosed as severely deaf. “I had no prior experience of deafness and thought maybe I’d done something wrong during pregnancy or something had happened during birth,” she remembers. “But it was just one of those things that happens that there are no explanations for.”

Although she describes those early days as a ‘learning curve’, she was lucky to receive excellent support from their local hearing support service. At primary school, Cobie’s experiences were also overwhelmingly positive and he had the benefit of a one-to-one teaching assistant who supported him to use a radio aid.

When the time came to choose a secondary school, the family chose one where the majority of Cobie’s friends were going. “The Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) continued,” adds Leisa. “We thought the continuation would help, being that it’s such a big jump.”

Starting secondary school

But moving from a school of 300 pupils to one of 1,600 was challenging for Cobie and problems started to arise. “He found his new school overwhelming; very noisy,” explains Leisa. “When they had to come out at the end of the day and find the bus, he kept panicking. He couldn’t find the bus and he’d call us and I’d have to go and get him. He found asking people for directions difficult because they’d talk as they’d walk or while looking away.”

Cobie even experienced negative attitudes from some of the other children. “The geography classrooms are outdoor Portakabins,” says Leisa. “If it’s bad rain Cobie’s allowed to go straight in because his hearing aids would get wet if he stood outside. He got picked on because the children would say: ‘Why should you be allowed to go in? Why should you have special treatment?’”

Cobie didn’t like to feel different and hated the unwelcome attention, for example because of his radio aid. “When he’d put it on people would look at him and ask questions,” says Leisa. “The teacher would have to put it on and then Cobie would have to put it on the desk when he left. It was making a bit of a show of him.”

All this was stressful for Cobie and he started to become unwell. “He gets abdominal migraines,” says Leisa. “It’s like a migraine but children get it in their stomach. They think it was brought on by stress.” At one point, Cobie was having to come home from school fairly regularly with migraines and headaches.

“I also had his PE teacher phone me one day saying he was concerned because PE was Cobie’s thing, yet he wasn’t wanting to do it. I spoke to Cobie and it came out that the other children were shouting at him to do things and because he wasn’t hearing, he wasn’t doing them. Therefore, they were having a go at him,” Leisa says.

Taking action

It was time for something to be done. A meeting took place between Cobie, his ToD and his mentor (a deaf sixth form pupil) where they decided he would do a presentation about deaf awareness. “Because he was getting picked on by certain boys, they asked him if he’d like to do a presentation to some children that he trusted,” says Leisa. “I helped him put the presentation together and we went for a meeting at school and discussed it.” Cobie explains, “I wanted to help my friends and staff understand what it’s like to be deaf and what they can do to help me.”

Presenting to a group of his peers was a positive experience for Cobie. “A couple of his friends actually changed and did a few of the things he had said would help,” says Leisa. This gave Cobie the confidence to present to his teachers, which he did with another girl in school who is deaf. “They understood more because it was him telling them and not just the ToD. She had done training with them but they didn’t take any of it on- board,” says Leisa. “But once Cobie was able to say what it was like to be deaf, they listened.”

While there are still sometimes issues for Cobie at school, life is generally a lot easier since his presentation. One important change is that Cobie now has an exit card so he can leave the room if it’s too noisy. His stress levels have reduced and the migraines are much less frequent.

“It’s all about awareness,” says Leisa. “Once they understand, the bullying stops. There are still children that are nasty – usually they say things without thinking, but it stills hurts. He has periods when it gets him down but generally at the moment school is going OK.”

Receiving a commendation

Another positive to come from Cobie doing his presentation is that he received a headteacher’s commendation certificate for it. “I felt really good because I knew that someone had told her what I’d done,” says Cobie.

What Cobie did is an excellent example of how to face up to challenges and he has some brilliant advice for other deaf children going through similar things: “Don’t let your deafness affect you and if anyone asks about it or about why you have hearing aids or a radio aid, just explain it,” he says. “Most people accept it once they understand it.”