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Car journeys with a deaf child

Published Date: 30 Mar 2023

Over the Christmas period we really noticed how inaccessible holidays can be. It gave us the opportunity to look at how we’ve been doing things and ways we can make celebrations accessible for our wee boy. Looking ahead to Easter, it might be something on your mind too!

Being out of routine can be tricky for us all. It helps our family to talk to Benji in advance about what we’re doing, so a couple of days before the end of term we talk to him about nursery being closed for the holidays. Before using BSL, we used photos of activities or places we would go – for example, a photo of my parents and their house, the woods we like to walk in, and the other family and friends we might see.

My side of the family stays a few hours’ drive away, in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and we try to get up to visit during the holidays. This means we need to prepare for a long drive. We don’t tend to overdo car preparation, but we have made a few changes to make things accessible for Benji.

Firstly, we have a signing policy in the car – all conversations need to be either signed or signed and spoken (neither my husband nor I have quite mastered efficient signing and driving, so this means whoever is driving can be included too!). As a family of BSL learners rather than fluent users, this isn’t always easy, but it’s important and means that Benji can choose to remove his hearing aids if he wants to relax and be comfy for a car nap (and children having car naps is an essential for the adults on a long drive!).

Secondly, we download a couple of episodes of programmes both sons can enjoy. When it was just our eldest, we didn’t use screens in the car, preferring to let him have some downtime, but having them share a programme for a part of the journey helps them bond and supports communication. It can be hard to find things they both like. At the ages of 7 and 4, they have different interests, but we’ve found Shaun the Sheep and Booba (both on Netflix) are great. They have absolutely no educational value, but the shared cackles of laughter at all the nonsense on these very visual programmes are more valuable than I could put into words! Think Tom and Jerry style humour with the same visual communication rather than spoken language.

The last change we’ve made is how we do breaks. Talking about having a stop in advance is probably something so small that people either do it without realising or don’t notice its absence, but we realised we hadn’t been doing it and it was adding unnecessary stress for Benji. Now we try to be clear about what’s happening, when and for how long. Missed incidental learning due to not hearing is something I hadn’t appreciated the real-terms impact of until having a deaf child. Clear communication is helpful for him, and his brother too!

Sometimes these changes are enough to ensure a relatively stress-free journey, and other times it can be chaos – life! But I do hope these tips are as useful for you as they have been for us, and that car journeys can be smooth (or as smooth as is possible with little ones around!).


Kirsten and her husband Abraham are parents to Christopher (7) and Benjamin (4). Benjamin is profoundly deaf and uses British Sign Language (BSL). He now wears cochlear implants.