A sibling's perspective
by Kelly Sorbie

Have you ever wondered what it is like for the siblings of your deaf or hard of hearing child? Kelly Sorbie tells us what it has been like for her, growing up with two hearing impaired brothers. 

Deafness has been a part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. I have two younger brothers Tom and Jamie and my dad Charlie, who are all hearing impaired. It’s a fairly unusual situation to be in as a family, but one I wouldn’t change for the world.

Tom was diagnosed with a hearing loss, when he was three and I was six, (he has a bi-lateral severe to profound loss).  After this, my parents resolved to do their best to adapt and provide him with all the opportunities any other child would have. 

The hardest part for Tom was keeping his hearing aids on. Tom hated wearing them at first and went to great lengths to get rid of them. He buried them in the garden, hid them in a cup of tea, threw them out of the car window and flushed one pair down the toilet at the sports centre when I was having a swimming lesson. I even had to help search for the pieces scattered around my school playground. We can see the funny side of this now, but at the time Mum was tearing her hair out! Having said that Tom gradually got used to his aids and the first hurdle was overcome.

Tom attended Sylvan Nursery for hearing impaired children and our local playgroup and when Tom turned four, he came to school with me at

Hampreston First School. When he started at Hampreston he had no speech, but he amazed everyone with how quickly it developed. The teachers wore radio aids to teach the class and it was explained to all the children in assembly what they were for. 

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During my time at school with Tom, I felt on occasion I had to act as his ‘ambassador’ and ‘protector’, as well as his sister. The Teachers had to wear a ‘strange box’ around their necks and I’d have to explain it was for my brother and in turn explain his deafness. As he progressed to a larger middle school and then upper school, nasty comments were occasionally made in his direction. At first, it was me who would rise to his defence with a quiet (and sometimes not-so quiet) word in their ear, but as Tom has got older (and become a teen) he’s been able to provide a wisecrack defence for anything thrown at him... including me.

I expect you are wondering where Jamie comes into the equation. Jamie developed his deafness when he was eight (he has a bi-lateral severe loss). This came as a shock and my parents were devastated, but again we managed. 

He also did not like his hearing aids at first, mainly because he was not used to wearing them and wearing them knocked his confidence a bit. However, I’ll never forget our day out in Alton Towers when Mum and Dad spent an hour searching all the bins in K.F.C because Jamie had accidentally left them on his food tray….and they found them amongst the chicken bones, soggy chips and rubbish!

Jamie ‘s hearing loss meant that I had to go for audiology tests again. At first, I reacted with trademark teenage angst and sullenness, but over time I’ve come to accept it, as I have also inherited the deafness. I do have a hearing loss in the high frequencies, which may develop further. But it doesn’t bother me, when I see how well my brothers have coped. 

From a sibling’s perspective, everyday comings and goings in a deaf family aren’t that different to any others. My parents have always made things as normal as possible and the boys do everything any other boy would do. We just have to be aware of dangers and make sure they understand what’s happening. This is hard when we go out sometimes and there’s a lot of background noise, as the boys are having to deal with lots of sounds at once. Try ordering food in a crowded Burger King, when you have to deal with a foreign student’s ‘English’ and a little brother who can’t hear or make his mind up! Taking Jamie out for the day made me realise all the little subtle things that you have to consider when you are with a deaf child.

There are funny moments, when in conversation they may have missed something and we are all talking about different things in one conversation! How Mum stays sane I don’t know! I joke that we all talk louder than the average family because most of us struggle to hear things.

We tend to rent out movies on DVD, rather than go to the cinema as the boys can follow things better with subtitles. We have them on all our Sky programmes as well. At first I found it annoying, but now I appreciate it as sometimes I miss things too. Being late for school was always equal parts me being slow and having to play ‘hunt the hearing aid’. 

I have always believed that what one person perceives as a difference is not a difference at all, but a strength. Achieving something is great on its own, but when you’ve overcome other obstacles to get there, it means so much more. 

To me, they will always be my brothers first and deaf second. They’re annoying and grumpy, but I’ll always love them. Deafness is just one more obstacle life has thrown at them and to see Jamie progressing with his music and Tom with his sport, both in mainstream schools, both with a good set of friends, makes me incredibly proud to be their sister. 

Now they will just have to put up with me being embarrassing!

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Contact Shirley Sorbie on 01202 571089

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