Few people can imagine the social isolation of being deaf, but it is something that Jackson Youngs and his parents know only too well.
Jackson, who lives in Bourne, has permanent hearing loss in both ears and despite being a typical six year old who is in to Lego, swimming, play parks and baking, he struggles to make friends.
During Deaf Awareness Week (May 5-12), the National Deaf Children’s Society hopes to encourage people to overcome some of their own awkwardness and make extra effort to communicate with people who have hearing loss. Jackson is in Year 1 at Bourne Westfield School and his mum, Verity, says being deaf has made it more difficult for him to settle in and make friends. “His hearing loss has impacted on his confidence and development,” she explained.
“Recently, his teacher told us that despite having been at school for over a year, he didn’t know the names of most of the children in his class.” Verity said that she and husband Steven were very concerned. “How difficult would it be to make friends without knowing their names?” she said.
They started to practise saying ‘What’s your name?’ with Jackson to help him, and have joined Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society, where they have been able to talk to other parents of deaf children. Jackson’s school has introduced group games and encouraged the use of names around the table. “We still believe that at times, he feels lonely at school,” said Verity. “Given the choice, he would stay at home.
“He didn’t want to go back to school after the Bank Holiday weekend, and when I have tried to mention children’s names in his class he says that they are not friends.” Verity says that a bit of deaf awareness goes a long way and really helps to make children feel included. She said: “One of the most important things is not to assume a child can hear just because they are wearing hearing aids.
“They also have to really work at hearing, and this can be quite tiring over time. When children are older, don’t give up and say ‘it doesn’t matter’ just because they haven’t heard first time.” She added that is also important to make sure a deaf child can gain eye contact and see the facial expressions and lips of the person they are communicating with. “It’s important to speak at a normal pace too,” said Verity. “And it’s fine to repeat what you are trying to say, or to put it into different words. People need not feel embarrassed about not being understood first time.” According to new YouGov survey figures released for Deaf Awareness Week, 52 per cent of British adults don’t feel confident about communicating with deaf people.
A significant number admit they have pretended to understand what a deaf person has said, rather than seeking clarification. Deafness is on a scale from mild to profound and deaf people’s hearing varies significantly from one individual to another. There are 11 million deaf people in the UK, equivalent to one in six adults.
Susan Daniels OBE, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “If everyone took the time to pick up some tips, become a little more deaf aware and make a bit of extra effort, it would make an incredible difference.
“Everyone wants to be included in the fun and games happening around them and deaf children are no exception.”
The Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society offers the chance for parents and deaf children to meet for activities such as swimming lessons where the instructor is in the pool with the children, and theatre productions that use British Sign Language.