Deaf children are a mixed bunch. Different levels of hearing losses, different communication approaches, etc. do literally mean that every deaf child is different. Some of them don’t even like listening to Lady Gaga. Complicating matters is that a high proportion of deaf children have additional needs, and these numbers are growing.
Trying to get a reliable figure on how many deaf children have additional needs is a bit like to trying to get Gadafi to take a hint. The figure of 40% is bandied around a lot. We know that many types of additional needs are incidental to the deafness – like communication difficulties. Others are physical disabilities that shouldn’t impact on deafness. I fell into this category as a child with the exotic sounding Pendred’s Syndrome – meaning a thyroid disorder which leaves me feeling easily prone to exhaustion from time to time and prone to ballooning if I as much look at a Big Mac. But it’s controllable and dealt with, like many other additional needs, and shouldn’t stop children achieving as well as their peers.
There’s a category of deaf children where it’s less straightforward – those with additional complex needs. Complex meaning that the disabilities compound each other and result in the child needing much more support. These include, for example, deaf children with Down’s Syndrome or severe learning difficulties.
We now know a little more about this group of children thanks to some research published yesterday by the National Deaf Children’s Society and the University of Manchester.
It makes for depressing reading. It shows that professionals with different specialisms don’t always work together. Deafness is sometimes treated as a minor condition that can be dealt with later. And that parents sometimes feel left out by charities, including NDCS, acting with a ‘silo’ approach, focusing on their “own”
There are some very sad quotes in the research. One that stood out for me was a Mum recalling how a professional told her to consider giving her child up for care. The Mum couldn’t countenance this possibility but when parents are left so unsupported and you read how she has been failed, I don’t think anyone could blame her otherwise.
It’s great that this research has shown a spotlight on this group of deaf children. Here’s hoping the forthcoming Special Educational Needs and Disability Green Paper takes action to support such children.