THE BLOG

Helping My Deaf Teenager Grow Up

14/02/2014 13:14 GMT | Updated 15/04/2014 10:59 BST

Can you imagine having to book your child's GP appointments long after they have become adults themselves, or having to attend every appointment with them to ensure they have understood what the GP is telling them, including embarrassing or confidential issues.

I'm a mum to a deaf teenager and lately these thoughts have been crossing my mind. It's all very well ringing up the GP now and booking an appointment for my daughter Lucy who is 15, I even go along to her appointments, but the older she gets the more uncomfortable this is going to become for both of us.

This situation is the reality for many parents of deaf children. Lucy was diagnosed as moderately deaf at 9 months old. 90 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents with no experience of deafness and I also had no experience. So I had to start from the beginning and learn as much as I could.

When I first heard the news that Lucy was deaf so many worries crossed my mind, would she struggle at school? Would she make friends? Would she be included or would she have to miss out on certain things? How would it affect her future relationships? Difficulties with booking and attending GP appointments hadn't occurred to me. As much as I could, I wanted to ensure Lucy's deafness didn't hold her back.

However no matter how hard I try there are always things that can hinder Lucy's development, things beyond my control, the lack of deaf awareness in GP surgeries is one of these.

It was shocking to hear about recent findings from the National Deaf Children's Society that show GPs and surgeries are often not deaf aware. They found many surgeries do not always provide deaf friendly services, such as the option to book appointments by text message, or visual display screens to announce appointments. The charity has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of this important issue. In fact My life, My health has been developed with the help of the charity's Young People's Advisory Board - a group of 17 deaf young people who share their experiences with the charity and help shape their services.

Lucy joined the Board and has been excitedly working on the campaign, determined to make a difference for other deaf teenagers. 200 deaf young people from across the UK were asked about their experiences of using health services, including visiting their GP. Honestly speaking I wasn't surprised by the responses but they are extremely worrying for me as a parent.

It is clear many health professionals do not know how to communicate with a deaf child or young person, sometimes not even being aware that they are deaf. And it's not only deaf teenagers that are affected by these issues. Only last month a deaf couple, who use British Sign Language, were featured in the news because they were not provided with an interpreter during the traumatic birth of their son.

It is essential GP surgeries make their services accessible to deaf young people by ensuring all their staff are able to communicate clearly, and that sign language interpreters are available to those who need them.

I am keen for Lucy to become more independent as she grows up and I have recently started encouraging her to see her GP by herself. After she'd gone to her first appointment by herself she was much more confident. I now encourage her to talk to the staff and tell them that she is deaf to make them aware of her needs. When Lucy's appointment is called, her GP goes over to her in the waiting room to let her know which is really helpful, otherwise how would she know?

Lucy and I are in a much stronger position now. You never stop worrying about your children, but knowing they can book and attend a GP appointment by themselves if they need to is a huge relief. I hope other parents with deaf children are encouraged to look into the support available.

If we can begin to tackle these challenges whilst our children are young, we can provide them with the knowledge, confidence and independence that will last long into adulthood. I'm so proud of Lucy for all the determination and commitment she has shown whilst working on the campaign.

The National Deaf Children's Society has produced videos of parents of deaf young people - including myself - talking about how they have begun to overcome some of the challenges.

Take a look at my video for the My life, My health campaign.

More information on the My life, My health campaign, including a campaign video and resources, can be found here.