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Lily beat the bullies!

Photo: Lily’s story: how she beat the bullies

Lily (12) has worn hearing aids since she was four and faced bullying as a result. But thanks to parents Nicki and Alan, she’s taking on the world with her positive outlook, bubbly personality and pink glittery hearing aids.

Parents Nicki and Alan weren’t expecting Lily to be diagnosed as moderately deaf aged four, but they made a decision that would shape her future. 

“It was a bit of a shock,” says Nicki. “But we’re a very practical family, we knew we’d be positive and not sweep it under the carpet. We encouraged Lily to get bright hearing aids, to stand out. We’d tell people, ‘She’s a bit deaf, can you repeat what you said.’ We didn’t want being deaf to be a shushed, taboo subject to be embarrassed about, so we were open about it.”

Lily chose bright pink, glittery hearing aids. She soon realised the benefits of keeping them in – hearing new sounds like clocks ticking and birds singing. She’d point out her hearing aids and tell everyone, ‘These help me hear’. Nicki and Alan were pleased when Lily’s teacher gave a talk to her class to explain about Lily’s deafness.

But one day, aged eight, Lily came home from school in tears and showed Nicki her reading book – in a childish scrawl was written: ‘Ha ha, you’re deaf!’

“It felt like a punch to my stomach,” says Nicki. “How do you explain why someone would do that? We went to see Lily’s teacher but the nasty jibes didn’t stop. These children taunted her in the playground, whispering so she strained to hear and asked them to repeat it – only to realise what they were saying: ‘Ha ha, you’re deaf.’

“It was heartbreaking seeing our once happy little girl so sad. She completely lost her confidence. She wasn’t keen to go to school anymore and she stopped going to dance classes.”

The couple searched the National Deaf Children’s Society website which they found full of useful information about deafness and deaf awareness. They realised bullying and feeling excluded is something deaf children can face and they can end up feeling isolated, with low self-esteem.

“It’s not just children being mean that’s a problem,” says Nicki. “Often people don’t understand the basics about being deaf – how simple things can cause issues, like when Lily can’t see someone’s mouth to lip-read.”

They changed Lily’s school and though she was much happier she still felt left out. Noisy playgrounds and sitting around a table at lunchtime with everyone talking at once made it hard to follow conversations and she’d feel excluded.

But Lily’s lucky; she’s had good friends and a supportive family who’ve coached her to be proud of her deafness. Her brother Elliot is a year younger but he’s very protective and tries to be there for her, to make sure she’s heard.

And when their sister Fearne was born three years ago, premature and profoundly deaf, Lily was thrilled to have another member of her special club! Fearne has cochlear implants and her parents hope she’ll be able to develop speech.

But Nicki found people stare and whisper, like they do with Lily. “Lily is ready for them, she tells everyone: ‘We’re deaf’. Her hearing aids are still very pink and glittery. She’s loud and proud of being deaf!” Nicki says.

“We want people to realise that Lily and Fearne are normal children. We got them matching purple glittery t-shirts printed with #Deafkidsrock to celebrate who they are. Lily thinks it’s great; she’s keen to answer the questions it invites. Fearne loves wearing the same t-shirt – she idolises her big sister.

“Lily’s faced the bullying that can come with being deaf. It’s been tough sometimes and heartbreaking for us to watch her going through it. But with the help of the National Deaf Children’s Society website and us coaching Lily to be proud of her deafness, she’s learned she can beat the bullies. She’s determined nothing will stand in her way.

“It’s wonderful to see Lily full of confidence again. She’s involved with lots of clubs and activities, including singing lessons. She loves dance and karaoke and plays keyboard and guitar. She’s so bright and funny – always making us laugh, doing impressions of family members and singing her heart out!”

In her last year of primary school Lily was elected onto the school council and had to stand up in assembly to talk about how to make school better. “It’s typical of her courage and a real achievement for her,” says Nicki.

Lily’s now completed her first year at secondary school and Nicki and Alan have high hopes for her.

“Lily’s enjoying the new challenges. She might even get elected onto the school council again. Her first year has gone well, she’s made new friends and built up more confidence as well as enjoying the new classes and subjects,” says Nicki.

“To some people finding out their child is deaf is the worst thing in the world. To me and Alan it was just one of those things; it makes her the extra special person she is. Our attitude is ‘Try your best, that’s all that matters.’

“She has bad days but we always have tea round the table together so we talk. Her opinion matters.

“Deaf awareness is important. We held a charity day in March and Lily helped. We want to make the world a kinder place for deaf children – that’s what I want for mine, they’re going to be deaf a long time!

“I know Lily will do amazing things when she’s older – she’ll change people’s attitudes to disability. She’s strong; a real force of nature!”