The right choices for Lily and Jessie
Sisters Jessie (17) and Lily (16), both profoundly deaf, have excelled at school and enjoy an active social life. Mum Pam explains how gathering as much information as possible helped her make choices that felt right for their family.
Listening to Jessie and Lily joke about stealing each other’s clothes and stationery, Pam knows the bond between her daughters couldn’t be stronger. And although the girls aren’t phased by their deafness, Pam sees how much of a support they have been for each other over the years.
“You’ll come to realise it when you’re older,” she tells them. With both girls receiving exceptional GCSE results, and Lily even making the news this year for her sweep of top grades, Pam has everything to be proud of. “They worked really hard,” she says. “Their dad and I were always saying it was incredible that we never had to hassle them to study.” But alongside the girls’ hard work has been Pam and dad Andy’s thorough research which has meant they were given the opportunities and environments which worked best for them.
"The information that made a difference to the big decisions, we had to find out on our own through searching online and in parent groups.”
Jessie’s deafness wasn’t diagnosed at birth, although Pam had her suspicions. “Our childminder and I were convinced Jessie couldn’t hear and we were on a waiting list to see the audiologist,” remembers Pam. “When Lily was born, newborn hearing screening had come in, so her hearing loss was picked up. When I said I had another child who I didn’t think could hear, Jessie was fast-tracked and diagnosed.”
Having two profoundly deaf daughters and little previous experience of deafness was challenging, but Pam armed herself with information. “I stopped working for quite a long time and just learned – like so many mums I’ve met who’ve had deaf children – tons of stuff that I would never have otherwise learned,” says Pam. “The information that made a difference to the big decisions, we had to find out on our own through searching online and in parent groups.”
Both girls had their first cochlear implant fitted when they were two, and second implants when Jessie was eight and Lily was seven. British Sign Language (BSL) wasn’t a route the family decided to go down – for them, Auditory Verbal Therapy was what really helped in getting the girls’ delayed speech to develop.
"I felt safe that there would be no bullying and there was a genuine interest in accepting difference.”
When it came to schooling arrangements, Pam and Andy were quite clear on what they wanted for the girls. They both attended a small, mainstream primary and received support from teaching assistants. "The deafness was a big factor in deciding where we wanted them to go,” Pam explains. “We wanted somewhere where the impact of their deafness would be minimised, and in a class of 13, they were just one of the kids in the class. It was a really nurturing little school.”
The girls now attend the sixth form of their secondary school and have excelled there, with both of them taking up new activities. Lily is involved in an entrepreneur group and history society and Jessie has taken up public speaking and is a member of the school council. “They both enjoyed studying so we wanted a school that would stretch them,” says Pam. “After visiting the school, we found out they make kindness a central ethos. I felt safe that there would be no bullying and there was a genuine interest in accepting difference.” Jessie adds, “Our school is very welcoming; they talk a lot about disabilities and overcoming challenges.”
Both girls have a teaching assistant in some of their lessons and occasional visits from their Teacher of the Deaf. “It’s quite good actually,” says Lily. “If I tell the Teacher of the Deaf about any issues I have, they tell that teacher what the issue is.”
“It’s about informing yourself as broadly as you can and not ruling things out because of people’s prejudices.
The social side of school is also important and both girls enjoy school life and have good friends. They are the only deaf students at their school but Jessie explains that this isn’t an issue. “It doesn’t really affect me, to be honest,” she says. “I don’t think of myself as different from other people because I’m deaf.” However, communication can occasionally be tricky. “There are areas where you socialise – they can be quite loud and I try to avoid them,” says Lily. “Or I just talk to the person next to me.”
The girls are sociable outside of school too and their house is always open to friends and family. “As we’ve got older, we’ve got quite a bit closer because we’ve got quite a similar friendship group outside school,” Jessie says. Pam adds, “I think they’ve got a lovely relationship. They give each other lots of space, but they’re also really good friends and always played really well together when they were little. In fact, I hear Jessie laugh the most when she’s hanging out with Lily!”
Jessie and Lily are a real success story of how being profoundly deaf should be no barrier to having a successful school career, plenty of hobbies and a busy social life. But Pam by no means thinks that the route they took regarding their daughters’ communication, hearing technology and schooling would be the right approach for every deaf child. “What we chose was absolutely right for us, but it may be totally wrong for somebody else,” advises Pam. “It’s about informing yourself as broadly as you can and not ruling things out because of people’s prejudices.”