Saying sorry for being deaf

Earlier this week, I was working on a draft of a NDCS policy position paper on mental health that will give the official organisational view of what good mental health and emotional well-being means for deaf children and the services they should receive for prevention and resolving difficulties that arise. If you’ve got any views on what the policy might include, let me know and I’ll try and slip it in.

In describing what good mental health looks like, I stole a line from the NDCS Healthy Minds resource to state that deaf children should be comfortable with their deafness and never ‘apologise’ for their deafness. So, for example, if they’re out and about, miss what someone says, the words “sorry, I’m deaf” should never be uttered when asking the person to repeat.

And then around ten minutes later whilst in a meeting, I realised I didn’t have my left hearing aid on. Things got fiddly, holding things up and before I knew it, I had uttered the words, “sorry, I can’t hear you at the moment”, thereby breaking the very rule I had written down moments before. Doh.

It was a small thing but it stayed in mind because it reinforced in my head that not much attention has traditionally been given to the emotional well-being of deaf children. And helping deaf children become confident kids who have a range of strategies for dealing with the communication barriers that – sigh – having to deal with deaf unaware hearing people brings, and who never ever apologise for being deaf. Personally, I think it’s an important but overlooked issue, especially for deaf children who go to mainstream schools and rarely meet other deaf children. It’s good to see that the Healthy Minds resource is now being used to fill this gap.


Hearing impaired units – helping deaf children be deaf?

I went along to visit a hearing impairment unit within a large mainstream school in east London last week, something I don’t do enough of. The school itself was pretty depressing – a large inner city school with a crumbling facade and with two policeman on site at all times. Crikey.

But the unit itself was a revelation. The staff were friendly and clearly working hard for the twenty-so deaf children on site. But what impressed me most of all was the liveliness and confidence of the kids. Some of them were signing away. All seemed very happy with themselves as deaf young people. All very inspiring.

With deafness a low incidence disability and with schools for deaf children on the decline, many deaf children are now going to mainstream schools instead. It’s good that they get to stay in their local community and many specialist support services do a great job in supporting such children. But such children may be the only deaf person there and may hardly ever meet any other deaf children. It strikes me as being difficult to develop as a positive identify as a deaf person and to be confident and assertive about managing it if you need see any other positive examples of it around you and you’re surrounding by hearing children. I’ve met a few deaf children who, in these circumstances, try their best ‘not to be deaf’. Which is depressing and does little to help them ‘manage’ their deafness by confidently asserting their needs.

Visiting the unit confirmed something I’ve thought for a while, that there is a real value in units. They give deaf children the opportunity to make sure that deaf children can socialise with other deaf children and develop a positive identity as a deaf person, whilst being able to mix with hearing peers as well. And they don’t have to live a million miles away from their home. You get the best of both possible worlds, in a way and should be an important factor for parents of deaf children to think about when deciding where to send their deaf children.

And that concludes my late afternoon ramblings. It’s probably an over-simplification of the issues. What do you think?

Deaf children: invisible on the social care radar?

I’ve blogged a bit about mental health and deaf children in the past. Of course, one way to avoid deaf children needing to have access to high quality mental health services is to prevent emotional well-being problems from emerging in the first place.

So I was really interested to read phase 1 of a report that NDCS has commissioned from the University of Manchester on social care which was published recently (and which NDCS did a press release on). The research is looking at the impact of recent changes in how services to children are delivered by local authorities. Depressingly, it found that the needs of deaf children are often overlooked and that there a few trained social workers that specialise in the needs of deaf children. In many cases, deafness literally becomes an invisible disability.

One of the striking conclusions is that there is a widespread assumption out by social care professionals that hearing aids and cochlear implants ‘fix’ deafness. Which is rubbish. Such children still have a hearing impairment. This hearing impairment still creates communication barriers. And those communication barriers can still lead to deaf children feeling isolated, insecure and inferior – unless support is in place.

Which is why social care is so important – they can help provide this support from the start and stop problems from becoming critical. But if social workers lack the expertise in deafness to do this and are not undertaking proper assessments of deaf children, then many deaf children may continue to fall through the net.

The good news is that there are examples of best practice out there, mostly where professionals have championed the needs of deaf children. Going forward, our job in campaigns will be to make sure that this best practice becomes the norm. We’ll let you know how we get on.

In the meantime, we’re looking for stories of how deaf children have fared with their local social care and mental health services. Drop us a line if you know of any case studies that can help us inform our campaigns.

CAMHS: Are deaf children being ignored?

Considering the figures out there that suggest that 40% of deaf children experience mental health problems, compared to 25% of their hearing peers, you would think that an interim report by an independent review team asked by the Government to look into Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) might mention deaf children.

Nope. The interim report, published at the end of July, makes for an interesting reading and I’m sure it will improve services to children with mental health problems. And to be fair, the team have a huge range of issues to talk about and report does mention the difficulties faced by “vulnerable” children. But vulnerable children covers a pretty wide and diverse bunch of children – all of which will have quite specific needs.

I talked about issues relating to emotional well-being and deaf children in a previous blog. As well as being more likely to experience mental health problems, deaf children are also more likely to experience difficulty in accessing services due to communication difficulties and a lack of specialist knowledge and deaf awareness by staff. Unless you shine a spotlight on this, it’s unlikely that people who will be implementing the findings of the final CAMHS report will do anything about this.

So we’re disappointed. But all is not lost. The review is still collating and reading evidence (including our response to their call for evidence)and we’ve written to the review team to set out our initial concerns.

The review team has asked for feedback on their interim report so if you feel the same as us, you can also contact them at to ask how they’re going to consider the needs of deaf children.

The final report is due to be published in October this year and we’ll keep you informed of developments.

Emotional well-being of deaf children

Its a sad fact of life that deaf children are more likely to experience mental health problems than other children. There are many reasons why this might be – but at the core of any explanation has to be the difficulties that deaf children may experience when growing up in a hearing world that isn’t always deaf aware. Not being able to communicate effectively with your own members of the family, where they are hearing and with your hearing peers in school can be a real struggle.

I mentioned in my last post that the Government has commissioned an independent review into child and adolescent mental health services, which goes by the catchy acronym CAMHS. NDCS is encouraging parents of deaf children who have used CAMHS to give their views to the review’s call for evidence. NDCS will also be submitting a response.

I think this is a really important review – and it’s doubly important that the needs of deaf children are taken into account. Sadly, I’ve known people who’ve had to make use of CAMHS. At the first, the treatment was appalling – the people who were meant to help her made very little effort to take into account her communication needs or to understand her background as a deaf teenager who had always struggled in mainstream education. She was forced to go into group therapy discussions – where other patients would give their views on her difficulties without her knowing what was being said. She was once told off for always wanting to sit next to the notetaker for the meeting so she could read what was being said. I was astonished by some of the stories that I heard.

Eventually, she was given treatment at a special unit in Birmingham. The treatment was better. But she was discharged before she ready and little ongoing care or monitoring was provided. The system failed her, and that she is still with us is largely due to the dedication and love of her mother, and her own will to keep fighting and surviving.

I am not saying that all CAMHS are as bad as the example quoted above and I know for a fact that there are some very dedicated professionals out there. But much more needs to be done to make sure that deaf children get the help they need and, even better, to promote their mental health and well-being so that they don’t need to use these services. There needs to be much more focus on prevention – and thinking about how we promote resilience and confidence in deaf children so that they can thrive when they grow up.

If you’ve got any thoughts on CAMHS, please drop us a line. Even better, respond to the call for evidence. The more people who write in about deafness, the more likely it is the review will take this issue seriously.