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Miriam speaks for herself

Photo: Miriam with her mum and pet tortoise

You can also read this article in Welsh.

As a Welsh first language speaker, Miriam, who is mildly deaf, is now embracing her uniqueness and learning to express herself independently.

Diagnosed with glue ear when she was six years old, Miriam (15) had actually been lip-reading for several years without her family realising it. “I felt awful that we’d missed it for so long,” says Mum Ffion. “We realised her older brother, who is very vocal, was talking on her behalf.”

Although Miriam had passed her hearing tests at school, Ffion was not convinced and took her for further tests. However, as the family speak Welsh as their first language, it wasn’t a straightforward process to get Miriam the help she needed.

“Going to audiology appointments, especially when Miriam was younger, I had to translate everything for her,” says Ffion. “Now she’s older and understands English this isn’t an issue, but the initial stages were more difficult.”

As the only deaf person in her family, Miriam has also found it difficult to speak up about her needs with those close to her. “One time, while walking in the mountains with my family, my aunt was talking to me,” recalls Miriam. “She looked so happy that I felt I couldn’t tell her I didn’t understand her, I just smiled and nodded. Family gatherings could be difficult – they’re very noisy and chatty. I used to escape to my room to hide.”

Miriam now attends a mainstream secondary school where Welsh is the primary language. While her school has provided a pastoral assistant to help communicate Miriam’s needs with staff, she’s one of the few deaf students there. “I enjoy school, but it can be tough sometimes,” says Miriam. “Some people forget I’m hard of hearing as I don’t wear hearing aids.”

“Although she’s not profoundly deaf, she still doesn’t hear everything, and she processes things slightly differently,” explains Ffion. “It has taken Miriam a while to be able to tell people, ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you’, and we’re very proud that she is getting to this stage now.”

Miriam now feels able to turn to her friends for help in class. “My friends are really supportive,” she says. “If I’m far from the teacher or I don’t hear something, I feel comfortable enough to ask them what the teacher said, and they will happily explain it to me.”

“It’s the tiredness of being with people that’s the main issue now,” adds Ffion. “She comes home exhausted after hours of actively listening and trying to decipher what others are saying.”

To decompress after school, Miriam spends time alone playing with her Nintendo Switch or with her tortoise Blaidd (whose name means ‘wolf’ in English). “It can get overwhelming,” says Miriam. “Doing something that I enjoy is helpful.”

Miriam also channels her need for quiet time into creative pursuits, sometimes spending several hours in her room making her own stopanimation films. She’s now taking Drama, Food Technology and Design Technology for her GCSEs in the hope of pursuing a career in film.

“I would really like to get into film and study that at university,” Miriam says. “I used to want to be an actor, but now I would rather be building sets behind the scenes. There’s a Welsh TV channel and it would be cool to work for that.”

Miriam’s Welsh identity and ability to speak two languages has helped her in other ways too. “Being a Welsh family, being a minority in the UK, it makes you much more aware of other cultures,” says Ffion. “Because of our background, we’re different. Having an extra difference hasn’t fazed Miriam, it’s made her more accepting.”

“It’s a great asset to have more than one language,” says Miriam. “It may be a bit more of a challenge if you’re deaf, but you should definitely go for it and learn a different language. It’s really helpful for your future and for your life in general.”

Although she’s surrounded by Welsh speakers at school, attending a mainstream school means Miriam didn’t know any other deaf young people. So she decided to attend residential trips and events with the National Deaf Children’s Society, making friends with other deaf young people, including those who also speak Welsh.

“It’s helpful hearing that other people are going through the same challenges as me,” says Miriam. “I can hear their experiences and learn from them, and I can give my own experiences to them as well.”

Meeting others like her has raised her confidence. Last year the family noticed this when Miriam went on a rock climbing course and spoke to her instructor ahead of time to make him aware of her deafness. “Before, I or my husband would do this on her behalf,” explains Ffion. “As Miriam is getting older, she’s embracing that independence and has more confidence.”

“I’m constantly filling in the blanks when people are talking,” says Miriam. “The hardest part is trying to figure out what people are saying. If I get it wrong, I sometimes feel embarrassed, but I’ve learnt to embrace it and laugh along. It’s a challenge, but it’s also sometimes a good icebreaker – you can laugh with people when you mishear them.”

Miriam has also used her experiences in school to help others by joining the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB). “I really wanted to make a difference in deaf young people’s lives,” she says. “We campaign for deaf awareness in schools, and I’m really enjoying it. I think that Welsh schools would benefit from it, and I bring experiences from a Welsh school to the YAB as well.”