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Cam's navigating the party scene

Photo: Cam smiling with his arms in the air.

Cam (16) loves socialising with his friends but, as a deaf young person, how does he get on at parties with loud music and lots of people?

Cam was 11 years old when he was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears. He explains that his family had known something wasn’t right since primary school. He had grommets three or four times, and the scarring from these operations is what ultimately left him deaf.

Cam’s 16 now and certainly doesn’t let his hearing loss get in the way of making the most of being a teenager. A keen musician, he enjoys playing the guitar and has had a lot of support from the music department at his mainstream school. “The music department obviously knew that I was deaf and I told them I was going to need some extra support,” Cam explains. “I said, ‘I can’t hear half the stuff you’re playing on the speakers.’ So, in lessons when they play things through speakers, they’ll play it to the class and then they play it to me separately using my ComPilot streamer. This means I get to experience the same sound extremes as the rest of my class.

"Because of that understanding, I have a bit of a stronger relationship with my music teachers. Now they both say, ‘Just come in for the lunch hour if you want.’ So I go in and play my guitar!”

It’s not just playing music that Cam loves, as with a lot of teenagers, parties are a big part of his social life. Whether they’re inside or outside, during summer or winter, Cam loves getting out and socialising with his friends. He explains how his deafness comes into play in these notoriously busy, loud and sometimes overwhelming situations.

“It’s usually loud music and loads of flashing lights,” Cam says. But having his friends with him for these occasions is clearly important to Cam and, as he explains, he’s lucky to have really supportive friends.

“If I get invited somewhere I’ll ask if I can bring some of my mates and they always say yes,” Cam says.

Meeting new people can be difficult for everybody, but when you have to explain your hearing loss another element is added. “The main reason I bring people with me is because it’s easier to explain my deafness to someone new if there are lots of people around,” Cam says. “I’ll say to my friends, ‘We need to tell such and such person because I fancy a conversation with them.’ So we’ll go and tell them, ‘I need to be outside to speak with you, are you all right with that?’ Then we’ll go outside and have a conversation there and then go back in.

“I never used to be a fan of meeting new people but now I find it quite easy to get a conversation going with someone. Bolton, where I live, isn’t massive so most of the parties I go to, people know who I am. They know I have additional needs and that I need to go outside to have a conversation or at least upstairs, wherever there’s less music. They just see it as the norm now.

“I’m glad that I’ve got a mix of deaf mates and hearing friends because it’s different speaking to somebody who’s deaf to speaking to somebody who’s hearing.

“I think for my mates from school, it was hard at first, remembering ‘Oh yeah, he’s deaf.’ I’ve grown up with everyone around me being hearing so I can see it from that side too.”

While he’s more confident in these situations now, Cam has also come up with some really useful top tips for other deaf young people heading out to parties. “Firstly I’d say, make sure there’s at least five people you know going,” Cam explains. “Well, five people who you’re close enough to that they know your needs.

“Next I’d say, get people outside so you’ve got the best chance of hearing what they’re saying. I’d also say don’t go into too much detail. Give them enough information so they know what you need and then if they have any more questions they can ask them there and then.

“Be confident, that’s always a big one."

If you’re nervous, people might turn away because they think it’s a bit uncomfortable.

“But remember people hardly ever say no. So if you ask, ‘Can you turn the music down?’ they won’t say no. I know you might not be confident but if you need it turning down, you need it turning down, just ask. It’s about going about it in the right way. Remember they won’t say no.

“Lastly, make sure you have a good time!”

For Cam, dealing with different environments and new people at parties is par for the course, but if he could tailor an event to exactly what he likes, what would his ideal party be? “It would be outside, preferably in winter, because we could get these big lights outside so you can still see and lip-read. I prefer parties in winter because I like getting wrapped up! There’s still going to be music but because it’s outside it’s not as loud and there will still be flashing lights but it’s outside so they’re not as vibrant or as in your face.”

So, what’s next for the partygoer? “I’m going to a concert tonight and tomorrow night. Tonight we’re watching a tribute to Linkin Park and then tomorrow we’re watching one of my mates because he’s got a band!”