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Ryan's taking secondary school in his stride

Photo: Read Ryan's story

Amy was worried about her son Ryan’s transition to high school, but planning and preparation have helped make it a brilliant success.

Amy heard the front door shut and her son Ryan (13) appeared in the kitchen, grinning and waving a piece of paper. “He’d been given five merits in one day for working hard and getting the maths questions right,” says Amy. “He was so pleased.”

Ryan was doing so well at secondary school and it was a relief for Amy and his dad Robert – they’d worried about him moving up. “We were scared he’d struggle, a small fish in a big pond,” says Amy. “But in the end it was me who was anxious, Ryan didn’t bat an eyelid!” That’s thanks to a raft of strategies they put in place to help smooth the transition.

Diagnosed as profoundly deaf at 18 months old, he had a cochlear implant at two-and-a-half. A second implant at age six really helped focus his listening skills and improved his speech. Ryan attended a mainstream primary school with a hearing-impaired (HI) unit. He became friends with five deaf children in the year above but when they left for secondary school he was the only deaf pupil.

Aged nine, he was diagnosed as mild to moderately autistic. “Like many deaf children, he’s a very visual learner and the diagnosis opened up opportunities for visual learning for him and acceptance of strategies to support his learning needs,” says Amy.

"We were scared he’d struggle, a small fish in a big pond."

Ryan was eager to go to secondary school. “He’s always been in a race to grow up,” says Amy. “He’s tall and strong for his age; that’s important to him, it’s like a replacement for being unable to hear. He was impatient to get to year 6, to be allowed a mobile phone and residential trips, and the limo ride at the end-of-year disco – milestones that made him feel he fitted in.” So the move to a mainstream high school with a HI unit couldn’t come soon enough, but careful preparation helped things go smoothly.

Amy visited the school and met all of his teachers to make sure they were aware of his needs. Ryan’s Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) put together a portfolio of his work to send ahead of him and the secondary school ToD visited him to get to know him. He went on an induction day at the school with his class, which helped familiarise them with orientation. He also made other visits on his own six times over three months, including a fun day with the year 8s and 9s.

In July his high school ToD organised an outing to an outdoor centre for him and other deaf children, where they went on boats and did an outward bound course. It proved a good team building day and a great confidence booster.

Before the September transition, she arranged for Ryan to do evening sessions of English and maths with other deaf children, and more sessions after term started. Through speech and language therapy he practised social situations he might come across, for example ‘What would you say to someone if you were lost?’ They also looked at things like safety in science labs and what to do when getting lunch, including using a biometric thumb print system.

“It all helped Ryan’s confidence,” says Amy. “The school gave him a booklet about the HI unit. It has two classrooms and soundproof ‘pods’ for sessions with support workers and to sit exams. His ToD organised deaf awareness training and a radio aid. And he was happy to be reunited with his deaf friends from primary.”

Ryan’s just finished his second year and Amy is thrilled with his progress. “He’s really thrived. I get a weekly report from his ToD about what he’s been doing and any issues. There’s very open communication,” says Amy.

“He finds homework difficult but the school is supportive. They recognise that he thrives on ongoing support so he attends homework club twice a week, which reduces stress at home. He’s started going to science club too; it’s helped his integration with his peers as it’s all fun experiments.”

"He has a big opinion, certainly when it comes to things that affect him!"

“He hasn’t got a massive group of friends. He’s still quite isolated from his peers and tends to stick to deaf children from the HI unit. At lunch and break times he can’t cope; it’s too much but they can take hearing friends to the unit, and he’s invited a few. It’s a real hub of activity.”

The successful transition has helped Ryan hit his teens confident and sociable. He’s a talented swimmer, competing in his local borough squad and is the under-14 champion in four strokes in the GB Deaf Swimming Club. “Swimming boosts his self-esteem and puts him on a level-pegging with his peers; in the water you wouldn’t know he was deaf,” says Amy. “He’s also got a hearing dog, Harris, which has helped him make friends. Another child at school has a hearing dog and they meet up.

“He’ll talk to anyone about Harris, about swimming, about how tall and strong he is – though the minute the conversation switches to last night’s TV, or skateboarding, he’s lost.”

But his confidence is growing all the time. When he announced his choices for his GCSE options Amy couldn’t help chuckling. “He chose maths!” she says. “Maths is compulsory, but he was determined it’d be his choice! Ryan has a big opinion, certainly when it comes to things that affect him! He’ll find GCSEs tough, might have to retake some or do a parallel year. But he’s excelled at maths the last two years, and he chose B-Tech Sport and Photography – he’s very visual and has a good eye so I’m sure he’ll do well.”