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WHY MY HEART BLEEDS FOR THE MOTHER WHO SMOTHERED HER CHILDREN.

In 1941, my six month-old sister contracted meningitis. Her life was saved by a new drug – many had died in previous months – and, for a while, my mother breathed a sigh of relief. However, she knew something was wrong. My sister did not react to sound but no professional believed her. She continued her stance that something was wrong with her baby daughter but not one professional she approached took any notice. In fact, she was labelled a ‘bad mother’, ‘neurotic’ and a person bordering on paranoia.

I know this, because, I have in my possession, letters she wrote to various educations institutions trying to get her child into an educational establishment for deaf children. In 1943, Hertfordshire County Council refused her requests even though she had a Harley Street diagnosis for my sister of profound deafness. The Harley Street specialist told my mother she should get immediate education for her two and a half year old daughter who was, admittedly running wild. Yes, a diagnosis produced in Harley Street and paid for by my grandparents, desperate to get the answers to so many questions that medics refused to address.

But Hertfordshire County Council refused to help!

My mother was dismissed as a neurotic, over-anxious mother. A mother who, they said, was obsessed with her daughter’s difficulties. The medics dismissed her concerns and, after the written diagnosis, the Education Department of Hertfordshire County Council dismissed her requests for help.

I write this as I am consumed with anger at how the health professionals of 1941/1942/1943 treated my mother and my sister. No concrete advice was offered. My mother was deemed a nuisance and, when she went against their advice and sought private education for her daughter, she was placed in the impossible position of trying to get her daughter into a school for the deaf using her own finances. My father was away serving in the Army. Finance was minimal. My grandparents helped – indeed they had paid for the Harley Street diagnosis, and later some school fees – how else were they to find out the cause of my sister’s difficulties?

When the child ran off and would not return when called she was called a ‘difficult child’ – a child with behavioural difficulties. And yes, many deaf children ended up in a mental institution because of the ignorance of those times. No assessment was offered by doctors. My mother was totally alone.

So, why did I sob at the story of the mother who smothered her children who suffered from limited life conditions? I can tell you now. I identified with that mother. She was the mother of my sister who was deemed incompetent by professionals in the 1940s. This impossible situation was only relieved by a retired teacher of the deaf who advised my mother to try to get my sister into a private school in Sussex at the earliest opportunity. Oh yes, the council denied any responsibility and refused to acknowledge the Harley Street report. No educational finance was available.

My sister was three years old when she eventually entered Mill Hall Oral School for the Deaf in Cuckfield, Sussex. There she was treated with love and she learned to read lips and speak. Mary Corbishley possessed a talent not recognised by Herts CC. They refused to finance my sister’s education because Miss Corbishley was not a fully qualified teacher. No, she was not ‘officially’ qualified but she could get deaf children speaking and lipreading!

Hertfordshire County Council should be ashamed if how they treated my mother. She had professionals breathing down her neck reducing her self-esteem to nil and reducing descriptions of her to an obsessed, neurotic person on a mission. How easily she could have been the mother we saw in court today.

Hertfordshire County Council do, in effect, owe my sister some compensation for their dire handling of her situation in 1941, but I doubt anything will result from this blog post.

I sobbed tonight at the news that a mother who smothered her twins and four year old now must spend time in a prison hospital until she is deemed cured of her deep depression. This could have been my mother. She could have so easily fallen into such an abyss. If it had not been for my grandparents who were so supportive and coughed up any money needed for my sister’s diagnosis and welfare, my mother could have been the mother standing in the dock today.

Hertfordshire County Council you gave my mother nothing. You made her life unbearable. She, too, was put upon by professionals who did not attend to her knowledge and experience of her life with a deaf child. It was traumatic to say the least. It was left to her to find a school that would address my sister’s difficulties. She wrote to all schools but, in the Second World War, many teachers of the deaf had been sent from schools for the deaf to fight on the front line. Teaching deaf children was NOT deemed a reserved occupation. How dreadful was that? Hertfordshire County Council you should be ashamed of yourselves. But you have never apologised. You have never offered compensation to my sister who had such a bad start in her education.

If it had not been for my grandparents and a deeply involved and caring mother, passionately keen for her child to have a normal life, my sister would have lived a life unable to communicate. Thanks to Miss Corbishley in Mill Hall, my sister learned to speak and lipread. You, Hertfordshire County Council, would not have offered that. You would only have offered entrance to a signing school at Margate at SEVEN YEARS OLD. This was disgraceful.

I cannot get this mother of those children in the news today out of my mind. This could have been my mother. Sixty professionals were involved with this case but NO-ONE noticed that the mother was deeply depressed and likely to harm her children. This was 2013.

My mother suffered in 1941. What has changed? NOTHING!

Deaf Not Daft

I would love to hear more from you for my book Deaf not Daft – growing up with a deaf sibling. A constant fight against ignorance eh

I will leave the comments below perhaps about the use of D and d
I am so tired after a very difficult day.
Thanks for keeping in touch and I do get your posts and will be back in touch after end of May although you can always tweet me or see me on Facebook at Di Castle – Writer.

I would love to hear more from ANYBODY who can give me anecdotes and interesting experiences of ignorance so I can get them all in the book and deal with it humorously so that it reaches a mass audience. Keep the comments coming even if I don’t get back immediately.

The Limping Chicken

The Secret Deafie is a series of anonymous columns written by different writers. Our Christmas eve blog is from one Deafie who finds added challenges get in the way of an enjoyable family Christmas…

I have a complex relationship with my family. I don’t mean my immediate family, who all know how deaf I am and are aware of the various rules (don’t stand in front of light, don’t cover your mouth, don’t look away etc.) and who I see regularly enough to keep reinforcing said rules.

I’m talking about my wider family, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and nowadays nieces and nephews (technically cousins-once-removed but hey, who’s counting, and they’re all cute as buttons). I don’t see them very often, usually only at big family events like weddings, funerals – and Xmas.

Though I love them all and they have never been anything less than supportive of me, this is…

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Deaf News: Deaf man left battered after horrific attack in Worksop

Deaf News: Deaf man left battered after horrific attack in Worksop.

I have not used Press This before so I hope this is in order for me to publish this.

For the deaf, the face and eyes are the most important part of the body. They need their eyesight to lip read, sign and read sign language. This is appalling and I hope the perpetrators are brought swiftly to justice.

DEAF? My sister’s oral don’t you know?

I have been de-cluttering and today I ventured into an old box of photographs and cuttings.  Surely I don’t need them all now?

I was brought up short when my eyes spotted a yellowed cutting with my name at the end.  It was a letter to the letters page of a west London local newspaper in 1998.  For many years a close friend worked on this paper with sometimes irritating results.  I would often answer the telephone to be asked for a quote on some area of education totally detached from my own teaching work.  As a true blue – perhaps more yellow? – journalist she was always on the lookout for a good story and my foray into an evening class in British Sign Language excited her interest.  She asked me first, as she often did and, keen to raise deaf awareness, I agreed.  The very young new recruit to the newspaper who telephoned me assumed I had enrolled in the class so that I could learn to communicate with my deaf sister.  I wonder what she thought we had been doing for the last fifty years?  The interview was stilted and disjointed until I uncovered her pre-conceptions.  At the time I was well into my Psychology degree with the Open University and was well-versed in seeking out my own assumptions as well as those of the literary scholars we were expected to quote. However, this did not help me on this occasion!

I began to feel uncomfortable about the mood of the interview when the reporter tried to put words in my mouth to suggest I had suffered a deprived childhood as a result of having a deaf sibling.  Mentioning that we didn’t go to pantomimes but rather had outings to the circus or an ice show was noted as a deprivation of my childhood experience of pantomimes.  When asked outright if I felt deprived I answered truthfully that I never did as my childhood was a happy and fulfilling one.  This was not reported so I can only assume she didn’t believe me.

In fact, my parents made sure I did participate in activities that could not be shared with a deaf sibling.  Thanks to the insistence of my Grandad, a piano was delivered to our home and lessons were arranged.  Practising in term-time was no problem as my sister went to boarding school.  In holidays I was discreet and didn’t broadcast the fact that I was going to the lounge to play the piano.  At around eight years of age, my mother took me to my first ever Gilbert and Sullivan opera and in doing so made me a lifelong fan of all G and S.  In the fifties fathers were not so involved with the children so the family didn’t divide at other times, for example so I could see a pantomime or orchestral concert.  These days I am sure I would be going to both but, of course, things have changed now and BSL interpreters are often booked at pantomimes and musical shows and advertisements refer to a ‘signed performance’.  In fact, with computers, mobile phones, texting and email, the Deaf can now access a wide range of communication methods.  However, despite increased understanding there is still much ignorance about the Deaf, their abilities and how to speak to them.  This blog at www.wordpress.com  is aimed at raising deaf awareness amongst the hearing population.  Sadly its main audience so far is deaf people who, I am pleased to say, re-tweet the link, follow and write comments.

The 1998 article, when it was published, was a negative reminder to everyone that only bad news is news worth telling.  I was hurt and angry that my interview had been so badly distorted, my answers reported in brief and totally out of context and the plight of deaf people portrayed in such a poor light.  When I complained, I was given the chance to write in and redress the balance which I did (see reproduced letter below).

Even today my friend who now works free lance tries to extract comments from me to use in her writing but I am wary and usually change the subject.  Once bitten and all that.  At least my short story and fiction book characters are well-disguised composites.  My letter went as follows:

I was pleased to speak to your paper about learning to sign and anything that raises deaf awareness is always welcome (** January 30, 1998)  However, I would like to put right an inaccuracy in your story on why I chose to learn sign language.  I did not, as was reported, learn so that I could communicate with my sister.

My sister was educated orally (note spelling), learning to speak and lipread and she and I have enjoyed excellent communication throughout our lives.  Also, because of my early experience with her, I am able to communicate with other oral deaf people, many of whom, like VH, use a mixture of both signing and oral communication.

When my sister married a man who only communicated via sign language, family communication became difficult.  We managed with pens and notebooks or my sister acted as interpreter so that her husband was included in conversation.  It was for this reason that I began attending BSL classes.  It was also unfortunate the story painted a negative picture of life in a family with a deaf child 50 years ago.  As a family, we played every board game available and visual party games such as charades and I Spy.  We attended ice shows and other types of visual entertainment.  We were the first house in the road to have a television and the two of us were often – in fact still are – convulsed in laughter in public or at family gatherings with our secret jokes shared via lipreading.

We may have missed out on musicals and pantomimes but your reporter failed to mention that now such families can attend special performances of these where an interpreter is present on stage.

My sister and her husband now enjoy pantomimes along with the rest of us.  However, despite more deaf awareness and new technology, this is an under-represented group and BSL is still not recognised as a language although it has signs, a structure and regional variations like any other.

I was also asked if I thought more people should be encouraged to sign but the obvious answer was omitted.  If more people learned this skill, deaf people could join in more community activities instead of being isolated.

On re-reading this cutting, I felt a twinge of sadness – not for how things were misunderstood in 1998 but for how little has changed.  Feedback I receive from my blogs on issues surrounding deaf awareness confirm my view that there is still much to be done in this area.

A simple google search for BSL classes in your area will provide many links and opportunities.

There is a website www. BSLcourses.co.uk which may give more information.

Why not learn and improve your ability to communicate with deaf people when you meet them.  City Lit has courses on the following link.

http://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/deaf_education/british_sign_language

Deaf Awareness Week 23-29 September The Invisible Disability

‘What’s wrong?  She’s deaf not daft.’

My mother’s friend, Mrs T, was admonishing a passer-by on Victoria Station as the children waited for their train.  The woman wrought this mother’s wrath by staring at the noisy party preparing to return to their boarding school in Sussex.  The group including my sister were all deaf.  Only the chaperones and teachers could hear.  My mother, unlike her friend, never challenged gawkers – I’d been told to stare back so I did.  At eight years old I relished breaking rules that, somehow, didn’t apply here.

Before television was widely available, few people understood the Deaf, often referring to them as ‘deaf and dumb’ regardless of whether they used their voices.  The noisy rabble on the platform should have put paid to that misconception.  Hearing and deaf siblings were causing an equal measure of commotion, their joy equal as they faced each other, touched arms for attention, waved hands at their mothers.  Of course, their speech was different – some would say odd – as was their body language.  After all, they had never heard the words they used.  Some shouted.  Others were quieter. But they were never dumb.

Years later several people referred to my bravery, even imprudence, at having babies.  Wasn’t I being rash, risking bringing a deaf child into the world?  Few recognized the difference between the born deaf and the deafened.  My sister was in the latter group.  It was not genetics but the meningitis as a baby that left her profoundly deaf.  Another myth is that all deaf children can be helped with hearing aids but for the profoundly deaf there is nothing.  Also, in 1953 no-one could foresee the cochlear implant.

It was three years before her diagnosis, with my mother repeatedly dismissed as neurotic.  Even now some deaf children are misdiagnosed with learning or behavioural difficulties.  Their other senses and curiosity enable behaviour which gives the impression they can hear.

In wartime, the tentacles of conscription extended into the heart of schools for the deaf, with young men and women snatched from their vocation.  Teacher of the Deaf was not a reserved occupation.  Even today, charities must campaign to retain funding; such is the invisibility of deafness.

Our local authority, Hertfordshire, refused to fund her boarding school until she was seven, despite professional advice that language and learning opportunities were being lost.  Specialist teaching from three was available privately at Mill Hall with Mary Corbishley.  An ‘oral’ school for the deaf, the children were taught to speak and lipread.  Sign language was forbidden although children with deaf parents often signed at home.

As a baby, I didn’t have to be told that my sister couldn’t hear.  Somehow I knew and, from an early age, would smile and wave to get her attention, crawl over, tug her clothes and point.

Family entertainment was visual.  Radio and music didn’t feature.  We played card and board games.  Ice shows and circuses were ‘in’; pantomimes with oral banter and jokes, were ‘out’.  ‘Signed’ performances with a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter are now available but not then.  On cinema trips, we sat in the back row mouthing parts of the storyline at intervals during the film.  Likewise with explaining who’s who and what’s happening on television.  But the Deaf never get the whole story, only disjointed snapshots.

Family events were difficult.  There was the uncle who shouted behind her back, moustachioed and bearded uncles, who mumbled behind their hair, the aunt with a hare lip and cousins, who weren’t taught to get her attention, face her, wait and speak slowly and clearly.  She sat always on the periphery, isolated and unable to join in fast-running debates.  We always left early.

At thirteen, my sister gained a place at Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf again an oral environment.  She was a Queen’s Guide and camped one year with her hearing peers from Harpenden.  Excelling at sport, she later played weekly fixtures in the Harpenden Ladies Hockey team.  A brilliant tennis player, she always made the semi-final or final in the local tennis club championships.

On leaving school, she trained on the comptometer.  Highly intelligent, she could only do repetitive boring jobs with no use of the phone or face-to-face contact.  Isolated and frustrated she battled depression, a common problem for deaf youngsters.

Fiercely independent, she bought a scooter, passed her driving test and then the advanced driving diploma.  Her success featured in the local paper, the banner headline ‘Young person overcomes disability’.  Later she learnt to drive.  People asked me, should she drive?  Wasn’t it dangerous?  ‘Well,’ I said, ‘hearing drivers with music blaring out of their in-car entertainment can’t hear an ambulance or car horn either.’  I still have to repeat this analogy.

The stance on signing has changed with most schools for the deaf using mixed oral and sign methods.  The Deaf world has a vibrant network and, as adults, even the oral deaf resort to signing, the main form of deaf communication in the many deaf clubs in the country.

Eventually my sister met her to-be husband, who is ‘deaf without speech’ and uses finger spelling with a smattering of Australian sign language.  Far from a language barrier, they communicated well from their first meeting and lead a full life travelling the country to Deaf events and abroad on holiday. They beat us at Scrabble and are certainly not daft.

For important meetings and medical appointments they have a qualified interpreter but clearly they are unusual or lucky, as the charity Action on Hearing Loss is campaigning via Facebook and Twitter for every deaf person to have an interpreter at GP appointments.  My mother, a founder member of the National Deaf Chldren’s Society, would be appalled at such lack of progress over seventy years.

Even as recently as 2005, at the time of my sister’s hip replacement, I accompanied her at her admission to the ward, demonstrating her lipreading skills and her notebook and pen to use for difficult or important words.  Yet half an hour later a nurse brought her a satellite phone. When the interpreter arrived she expressed little surprise.  Eventually I returned to the hospital armed with a guide sheet.  This was greeted with immense appreciation,  the nurses’ training apparently having missed out this element of communication.

Now attitudes are less biased, although only three years ago, visiting Harpenden for research, someone had an eureka moment and referred to remembering my ‘deaf and dumb sister.’

Unfortunately, some things never change.

Note: The National Deaf Children’s Society have launched a campaign LOOK, SMILE, CHAT, with learning resources and lesson plans to bridge the gap in understanding.

Reema Patel: Why we should get behind the Deaflympics and the GB Deaf Women’s football team

Do you know what the Deaflympics are?
Read this.

The Limping Chicken

I think that there are two signature emblems to the X-lympics – as I like to call them (the Olympics; the Paralympics; the Deaflympics). The first official emblem is the flame. The second informal emblem – and in some ways, more pertinent to this article, is the starting gun.

The relationship between all three forms of these games is, if mainstream media reporting is anything to go by, slightly uneasy. So the first open question we need to ask to understand this relationship is – what’s in common between them – and what’s different?

The distinction between the Paralympics, the Olympics and the Deaflympics is that the starting point or the starting gun – being who we are – is often inevitably different. It is the celebration of excellence relative to a particular sort of starting point. This, I feel, is beginning to reflect an increasingly subtle and nuanced…

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