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Toni and Tosin's story

Mum Oyin talks through her journey with twin sons Toni and Tosin (12), who are profoundly deaf and have a number of additional needs.

As a single mum to twin boys Toni and Tosin (12), both of whom are profoundly deaf and have a number of additional needs, life was initially tough for Oyin. But by making sure to prioritise her own health and wellbeing, and implementing a number of strategies, things began to get easier…

Oyin watches her son kicking a ball around the garden – Toni and Tosin love playing football with big brother Seni (15). She marvels at how far the twins have come.

Born struggling for life, diagnosed with a number of medical conditions, doctors then told Oyin and her husband Tunde they were profoundly deaf. “It was a shock,” says Oyin. “I felt heartbroken and powerless watching my ‘happy ever after’ disappear.” The twins were later diagnosed with eyesight problems, a neurological disorder and mobility issues too. Numerous medical appointments, operations and hospital stays meant a stressful, challenging start to life.

“It was draining,” says Oyin. “I felt guilty about Seni, lost in the drama, his lovely home life upended. Learning to accept and adjust was challenging. I felt I was wandering around in a dark tunnel.”

Oyin contacted the National Deaf Children’s Society for help and did a 10-week sign language course run by a local deaf children’s society. She began teaching the boys British Sign Language (BSL). Then they had cochlear implants fitted at two years old and began to learn speech too. The family relocated near a school for deaf children and the boys got the extra support they needed.

But when the twins were four, Tunde moved to another country. “We really struggled as a couple, the stress from the boys’ challenges didn’t help and our marriage broke down. It’s been a very lonely and difficult journey since then.” Parenting became overwhelming for Oyin. As well as coping with the general challenges twins bring, she had to deal with their speech and communication delay, lack of social skills, behaviour problems, and learning delay and difficulties as well.

“Parenting Seni was instinctive,” Oyin says. “I didn’t have to explain, for example, what a TV was called. But with the twins, I had to teach them the names for things and explain the meaning of everything. I had to be animated and creative.

“They didn’t understand social rules, like personal space. They’d tap Seni’s friends too hard to get their attention and get in their faces. So I’d teach them it was upsetting. With Seni’s help, we’d act it out. We did this over and again so they understood.

“Seni is a fantastic big brother, he’s so patient, but it was hard. Collecting him from school, the twins were excited to see him, bubbly and loud but unable to use words. His friends would ask, ‘What’s wrong with your brothers?’ He was embarrassed. I’d tell him he must educate his friends, see it as an opportunity to enlighten people.”

"Make time for yourself - if you're tired and overwhelmed, you can't support them."

Oyin realised she’d have to make more time for Seni as he began to feel left out. She got a babysitter and spent quality time with him doing something he enjoyed each week. She also had to make time for herself.

“I’m a single parent, there’s only one of me. It’s brought so many good things to our family, we have a really close bond, but there was a real impact on my health too. I wasn’t sleeping, my hair fell out. I had to be strong for my boys. But I learnt I must prioritise self-care and slowing down – without me the overall wellbeing of the boys would be negatively impacted.”

Oyin works on the boys’ emotional wellbeing too; one strategy is a daily family circle time. “Toni wasn’t good at expressing his feelings, though Tosin and Seni find it easier. So after tea we all sit down and talk about our day, our feelings and what needs to change. It’s helped get them communicating easily and freely.

“I teach them nuances, ranges of emotions, rather than just ‘happy’ or ‘sad’. I ask open-ended questions which empower them to problem solve; I can’t always be there to help them.

“I boost their confidence, normalise deafness so their foundation is solid, then there’s little the world can do to damage it.

“I set goals for myself and try and be a positive role model. I insist all the boys spend time together, not go to their rooms, so they learn to interact, bond and learn social skills.”

"They didn't understand social rules, like personal space."

The twins wanted to join a football team but the first try-out, aged seven, was an ordeal. The twins couldn’t understand instructions and other boys called them stupid. Then a staff member at school showed them diagrams and YouTube videos, and Seni coached them at home. Now they play for deaf and hearing teams.

“They do really well, they’re resilient. We keep going, our team!” says Oyin.

“They’re good boys, well behaved. We understand each other and have settled into the dynamics after all these years together.

“Toni and Tosin look the same but are very different people. They accuse me of treating them differently and I say, ‘To treat you fairly and meet your needs, I can’t treat you the same.’ I  want them to feel heard and supported, and for their individual needs to be met.

“I don’t compare the twins to other children, nor to each other. I only compare them to themselves as they progress. Their additional needs are apparent but improving.”

Oyin has advice for other single parents too. “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything,” she says. “Prioritise, choose your battles, and constantly reassess what needs doing. It doesn’t matter if nonessential things don’t get done.

“You have to make time for yourself too – don’t feel it’s selfish. If you’re tired and overwhelmed, you can’t support them. You can be fantastic at everything, but not all at once.”

Photo: Oyin has worked hard to make sure Toni and Tosin can express their feelings