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Reuben's a deaf awareness champion

Photo: Read Reuben's story

Support from his deaf-specialist school and a determination to increase deaf awareness has allowed Reuben (14) a highly successful transition to mainstream school.

“Deaf school is important to me because it helped me find my deaf identity,” says Reuben. Remembering choosing his primary school, mum Jacinta adds, “We felt he needed deaf education, deaf peers and role models and to be part of the Deaf community. The deaf school made him who he is and it was the most fantastic start to his life.”

His parents knew when Reuben was born that, as his dad John is deaf, there was a 50% chance he would also be. He had an early brainstem response hearing test and was diagnosed profoundly deaf at four months old.

“As John uses British Sign Language (BSL) that was Reuben’s first language. But as soon as he got his hearing aids at six months, I’d spend time teaching him to listen to environmental sounds,” remembers Jacinta. “A hearing baby will naturally hear something and look for it, whereas a deaf child would hear a noise but not actually know it carried any meaning.”

Reuben, who still prefers BSL but also uses speech and Sign Supported English, attended his deaf-specialist school until he was nine, when he began a split placement with a local mainstream primary school.

"I wanted a new challenge, to learn new things and meet different people…"

When it came to choosing a secondary school, Reuben didn’t want to be in the deaf-specialist school full-time anymore. “I wanted a new challenge, to learn new things and meet different people – to live more in the hearing world,” says Reuben.

Reuben had also set his sights on an apprenticeship at Rolls Royce, for which he needed triple Science GCSEs that the deaf-specialist school was unable to offer. So he continued a split placement arrangement with the mainstream secondary school linked with the primary.

“He started in September and by October he just wanted to be in the mainstream. But we decided we’d wait the year and see how he got on with the pressures of a mainstream environment,” says Jacinta. But timetabling was difficult between the two schools and his parents realised a split placement wouldn’t work for Reuben’s GCSEs, so they agreed to the move.

Although the mainstream school had some students who could sign, they’d never had a profoundly deaf pupil who needed an interpreter before. “The support and deaf awareness training from the deaf school was absolutely phenomenal,” says Jacinta.

“The team from the local authority were amazing – they stipulated exactly what Reuben needed, including additional support like time out of the classroom for eye breaks, rest, covering work he’d miss and one-to-one time. Without that initial embedding it would’ve been really hard just to have dropped him into the mainstream school.”

It took a year to complete the move, including agreeing funding for Reuben’s support and recruiting a communication support worker to interpret for him in lessons.

A year on and Reuben loves school and is popular there. “Everyone’s accepted him and done as much as they can to help him,” says Jacinta. “I didn’t expect him to do as well as he’s done – in the first year he was top of his science class. With the support and the access, he’ll do anything.”

But the social side of school hasn’t been easy. “Obviously there are communication difficulties. I can talk to some of my friends but mostly it’s quite difficult and I can get lonely,” says Reuben. Jacinta adds, “He’ll play football but lunch breaks can be solitary. There’s a space where he can go and have some time out and he’s happy with that because it’s such hard work being in the classroom.”

Reuben has also come up with a solution to help. “I’ve set up a BSL club on Tuesday lunchtimes,” he says. “We’ve also put up deaf awareness posters around school so people who don’t come to my club can still learn.”

Reuben also started the Facebook page ‘Learn how to do British Sign Language’ in March which has attracted an incredible 16,000 followers. “It’s amazing as one of those people could meet a deaf person and they’ll be able to communicate with them,” he says.

"It’s amazing as one of those people could meet a deaf person and they’ll be able to communicate with them."

Reuben’s tireless determination to increase deaf awareness has attracted public attention, leading to some exciting opportunities including appearing on BBC’s The One Show. “I’m really pleased because I’m helping more people to be deaf aware,” says Reuben. And there’s one particular achievement he’s most proud of: “Being invited to the royal wedding!” he beams. “It’s a fabulous event in history and to be part of that – you just feel amazing.”

“I’m completely proud of him because he’s done it all himself,” says Jacinta. “He made an impression on The One Show that led to his invite to the royal wedding. Even there he was teaching people to sign their names and raising deaf awareness.”

His success has also brought Reuben closer to realising his ambition of working at Rolls Royce. After his interview on The One Show Rolls Royce kindly offered him a VIP tour and it was then he found out about and was successful in applying for their young apprenticeship scheme.

“I get to miss one day of school every week and spend it at Rolls Royce, learning engineering and lots of cool stuff. It’s quite exciting!” says Reuben.

As well as working for Rolls Royce, in the future Reuben hopes to make life easier for deaf people. “You’ve got to be confident, brave and proud of who you are,” he says. “I’m proud of being deaf.”