One families solution to swimming lesson communication problems
by Katrina Ingman

My daughter Ava was born at 38 weeks followed 2 minutes later by her twin brother James at Frimley Park General Hospital on 29 September 2008. Both were healthy, happy and contented hearing babies. Three months later on New Year’s Day 2009 Ava contracted pneumococcal meningitis which left her profoundly deaf in both ears. Four months later she was implanted with bilateral cochlear implants.

From the point of ‘Switch on’ Ava’s hearing and speech has gone from strength to strength. We moved back to Dorset in 2010 and Ava now attends The Elizabeth Foundation one day a week and St. Andrew’s Church pre-school with her twin brother. Ava is now a very sociable, bright and intelligent 4 year old who loves to learn and is now age appropriate in all her milestones. She loves to sing, play her pink guitar, count and all the other normal things that 4 year olds do and if you didn’t notice her cochlear implant you wouldn’t know that she is profoundly deaf.

As a parent of three children I have always thought that learning to swim is as important as learning to read and write, especially living by the sea and my children’s love of water. At age nine my daughter Carys still has and enjoys lessons. So as soon as my twins Ava and James were old enough, I enrolled them at our local pool for lessons. I informed them that Ava is profoundly deaf and was reassured that this wouldn’t be a problem as they took down her details. Just after their 4th birthday they started weekly lessons.

Ava went to the poolside wearing her processors where she met her instructor and listened until it was time to get into the pool, I then removed her processors, she confidently told the instructor that she didn’t need help before jumping into the pool with no fear and had a great time, while I sat at the poolside an anxious wreck.

In a small class of six Ava was doing great following the other children but it soon became apparent that Avawasn’t able to lip read her instructor and her instructor didn’t fully understand Ava’s needs as a profoundly deaf child. At times I became genuinely worried for her safety and my anxiety levels went through the roof, I was constantly perched on the edge of the pool trying to get her to look at the teacher, hold on to the side and signing to reinforce what the instructor was asking her to do.  It was within a few weeks after a few incidences that had panicked myself and Ava, I felt that the only way forward was for Ava to get to know her instructor and vice versa with some 1:1 lessons. After some online research I phoned the Leisure Centre and asked if they belonged to any schemes that help children with all types of disabilities to join in activities. Whilst waiting for them to get back to me I rang Shirley from Dorset DCS and she had recently received some information about some possible funding for 1:1 swimming lessons and told me to contact Donna Dudley, Swimming Academy Coordinator for more information.  The Leisure Centre came back to me and said that unfortunately there aren’t any schemes but they also recommend I contact Donna Dudley.

I rang Donna and explained my worries and concerns for Ava and of the opportunity that she was missing out on as a deaf person unable to communicate effectively. Donna was very understanding and helpful and thought the same as me that some 1:1 lessons would be invaluable to both Ava and her instructor. Donna told me about The Xchange on-line. I filled out an online application for Ava and then waited for it to be processed and for Ava to be accepted as a member; Donna was then able to access funds through The Xchange on Ava’s behalf, enough to fund six 1:1 lessons!!! These lessons were at a different local pool but still with Ava’s swimming instructor.

Ava was a bit shy and reluctant on her first 1:1, but by the second week was less so and by the third week was enjoying herself. The six weeks flew by and the transformation was remarkable, Ava is now also a class ahead of her hearing brother!!

I now have such confidence in the communication between Ava and her instructor that I hand Ava over at the poolside with total confidence and zero anxiety with piece of mind that Ava will understand what is being asked of her and in turn be safe while having fun learning to swim!

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