A couple of weeks ago in London, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s signed choir performed a collection of Christmas songs to crowds on a festive Southbank and busy Liverpool Street station. It’s an annual tradition I love – getting staff together, both hearing and deaf, to perform in the lead up to Christmas. As an organisation we know that making sure activities are fully inclusive isn’t an optional extra but something that each and every organisation and service should be actively working towards. Whether it is performing together in a choir, or being able to watch films at the same time as hearing friends and family in your local cinema, with the right adjustments and support deaf young people can do everything other young people can.
Despite these opportunities to come together, Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for deaf children and young people. It may sound odd to say but when growing up I felt more deaf at Christmas than at any other time of year. Families and friends coming together for parties, rooms full people you don’t see from one year to the next. There is a hubbub of excitement. Talking, singing, music. In all of this basic communication can become very stressful. I remember a lovely friend of my dad’s who would come around to our family home at Christmas time. Trying to be kind he would over-enunciate every word so that he became almost impossible to lip read. At that age I didn’t yet have the confidence to say it wasn’t helpful.
These are all obstacles which with a bit of thought and forward planning can be overcome. One of the most important things parents of deaf children and young people can do at this time of year is to be aware. If you see your child withdraw from a social situation, ask them why and what you can do to help. Reduce background noise when you can such as by turning off the TV when no-one is watching it, don’t dim the lights and remind people to indicate when the topic of conversation changes.
Whatever your beliefs or background, Christmas is all about community, coming together with people you love. Around 90% of deaf children and young people are born to hearing parents. For many it will be their first experience of deafness and for them too this time of year can be isolating and lonely. Being able to reach out to gain advice and support from people you trust is critically important. In the UK, five children are born deaf every day. We want every one of their families to know we are here at Christmas and throughout the year.
As a profoundly deaf Chief Executive of a deaf children’s charity I am absolutely committed to breaking down each and every barrier deaf young people face. We couldn’t even begin to do this without your support. Whether by raising awareness, raising funds or simply being more deaf aware we can all do our bit to make Christmas a joyful and inclusive time for deaf children.
If you are able to support deaf children this Christmas, you can donate here. Thank you for your support.