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Rhodri’s ticket to independence

Photo: Rhodri stepping onto a train.

Rhodri’s morale was low and then he was diagnosed with a mild hearing loss. But armed with new hearing aids, he’s worked hard to build up his confidence,  including trusting himself to travel independently around the UK. Now, he’s feeling more sure of himself.

Earlier this year Rhodri (14) had a nightmare train journey back from London. After a two hour delay, he had to swap from one train to another. But luckily he wasn’t fazed. With careful planning in place, Rhodri is now happy enough to travel independently.

It wasn’t until Rhodri was nine years old, and after he’d moved school, that his teacher suggested he might have a hearing problem. “We’d noticed we’d have to shout a bit louder to get his attention,” dad Gareth explains. “But we just thought he was engrossed in what he was doing.”

They took Rhodri for a hearing test and he was diagnosed with a mild hearing loss and given hearing aids. “I was worried about going into my new school with hearing aids,” Rhodri says. “But I could hear a lot more, so people couldn’t talk behind my back anymore. I noticed a huge difference immediately, I could hear birds tweeting which I’d never heard before.”

“I felt awful,” Gareth says. “I felt like I’d really let him down for not noticing.”

Rhodri’s grades immediately began to improve and getting the hearing aids began to improve his confidence too. He’d suffered with a stammer since he was little and finally found it getting better. “I could barely talk for a couple of years when I was six and seven,” Rhodri says.

“It’s still there,” Gareth adds. “But over the last few years, especially since his diagnosis, his confidence has improved immensely.”

Rhodri’s hearing has declined slightly and he’s now classed as moderately deaf. At secondary school he uses a Roger Pen radio aid which has made a huge  difference to his learning. “I love the sciences at school,” he says.

Two years ago, Rhodri joined our Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB), a group of deaf young people who attend residential weekends together and plan their own campaigns.

“That’s also massively improved his confidence,” says Gareth.

“I felt like I was the only one who’d lost my hearing,” Rhodri explains.

“The YAB was reassurance that I’m not the only one going through this.” He attended the first residential weekend with his dad.

“He came out after the first day exhilarated,” Gareth explains. “He’d found a group of friendly people who he gelled with straightaway.”

“I loved the atmosphere,” Rhodri adds. “And the older members gave me advice, like how to do my GCSEs being deaf.”

The YAB and making friends with older deaf children allowed Rhodri to feel brave enough to start asking for more help. “They said they were allocated extra time in exams so I went and asked the school to arrange it for me,” he says. “I did my own research and also realised I could get my own room for exams and a live speaker for listening tests. It made a big difference and my scores have improved.”

“I’ve noticed it as well in his general demeanour,” says Gareth. “There’s been a few hiccups on the way but that’s being a teenager and there’s no escaping that! It’s just been an amazing boost. For example, he’s up for the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) award at the moment and I’m not sure he would have had the confidence to do that without the YAB.”

“I’ve always said ‘No I can’t do that, I’m not good enough.’ That’s changed,” says Rhodri.

And another big change for the family is Rhodri’s willingness to now travel independently on public transport, a huge challenge initially for him.

“It was about midway through the YAB, I decided to start travelling by myself to residentials,” Rhodri explains. “I was afraid, but a lot of the young people were doing it and I wanted to try.” Rhodri’s first journey alone was down to London, it was a simple trip with Gareth dropping him at Darlington station and a straight train to London with no changes. Someone met Rhodri at the other end to help him navigate the Tube.

“I panicked a little bit when I was on the train without my dad,” Rhodri says. “I thought, ‘Oh dear, what have I done? What if the train stops? What if I can’t hear what’s going on?’ But around an hour into the journey, I settled in.

“Before going, I talked to my dad and went through the journey step-by-step, it was helpful that London was the last stop and I was just staying on until then.”

The next journey for Rhodri was to Leeds, it was a short journey but he had to get off at a station that wasn’t at the end of the line. “I packed up about 15 minutes early,” Rhodri says. “I was just sitting there thinking ‘What if I miss it?’ I looked out for signs for the stops.”

With two journeys under his belt, he feels he could now tackle any challenge when travelling. “I follow the Trainline app so I know which line I’m going to,” he says. “It tells me which platform I need. I used it on previous journeys with my dad so I’m familiar with it.

“I feel invincible now and like I can tackle any journey. And I’m applying for more things. I love cars so now I’ve joined a slot car club and I compete too. In the future I want to do something involving cars, maybe chemical engineering.”

And Rhodri can’t wait to do his DofE. “Before this, I might have thought, ‘What if I get lost?’ but I look at it in a more logical way now.”

“I think socially he gets on with people a lot better now,” Gareth says. “He’s more confident interacting with others and making friends. He worries less what people think of him.”

“I’ve finally found my voice,”Rhodri adds.