Talking about tomorrow


Starting university – a parent’s view

Suzanne’s daughter Emma has severe hearing loss. Without hearing aids she can’t process sound and hears no speech. She is in her final year studying German and Applied Language Studies, having spent a year as an English language assistant in a German secondary school.

When we met the support staff they went through everything and as well as accommodation and tech they set up a meeting with the language department head, lecturers and an audio specialist. They really knew their stuff – it was so reassuring.

We started thinking about the support Emma would need when she was about 15 or 16 years old. She had always expressed an interest in university so we knew it was a possibility.

As much as anything, we looked at what financial support would be there, especially from a technology viewpoint, because whichever course she did technology would be one of the most expensive parts of what she would need.

Then when she started applying to universities, we talked to them all, asked what support groups they had, what support there was for deaf students, if they had experience of deaf students.

Emma and her dad visited the universities and managed to talk to people at every visit, to find out attitudes as much as anything – things like did a lecturer of German balk at the idea of having a deaf kid in his group. Actually nobody did. They were all extremely accommodating and I think meeting Emma helped because they got a measure of what kind of person they were getting. It was probably that Highers year when we did most research into what was needed.

It was a lucky coincidence that Emma went to university close to where we live. She wanted to go further away, but after a difficult and exhausting Highers year that wasn’t possible and in fact having her closer to home has worked beautifully.

A piece of advice I would give to parents is consider how far away you are going to be, because while I’ve played a much smaller role in supporting Emma through university there have been times when I’ve had to step in. All the support is student driven, so if the students get to a point where they’re not in a position to ask for help themselves, being able as a parent to see that almost immediately and do something about it is very useful.

I found it very easy to step in on Emma’s behalf when I needed to. Student support has been amazing. Every time it’s been to do with mental health issues, so fatigue driving her down, anxiety, feeling depressed, losing her confidence, not being able to concentrate. I have taken her with me to the support team and without fail they’ve immediately set up counselling, study tutoring, everything she needs. They also invoke the learning plan that entitles her to extended deadlines and so on.

The main thing hasn’t been getting the support people to do it, it’s been getting Emma to recognise when she’s at the point she needs help. In her second year it came a month too late and I didn’t recognise what was going on because I wasn’t seeing so much of her. So it’s about keeping your eye on the ball and trying to recognise when you know your child is not at her best. But from a university point of view, it’s been very easy.

Just about everything was in place when she started. There were a few small glitches but the tech people sorted them out. Within 2-3 weeks everything was running smoothly. To be honest I couldn’t believe how helpful these people were, and how knowledgeable.

I wasn’t emotional when Emma first started, I became very practical. It was all about Emma and her gaining confidence to do things for herself. In my mind, part of her course involved a year abroad, and I knew she had a very steep learning curve to get to the point where she would be able to go to a foreign country and do everything for herself. But Emma is an incredibly strong person, I have complete respect and faith in her ability.

The weekend she moved into halls actually went quite badly, which surprised me and I have to say on the Sunday evening when we left her at the university I was quite a mess inside because I was really worried about what the first few days would hold. So I was really torn – she was in floods of tears, and we had to say we need to go now, you have to do this, this and this. We talked to each other about 2 hours later and she was fine because by then she’d met other people on her course. But that was by far the most difficult part.

We’ve always encouraged Emma to be totally honest about her extra needs and also about the impact of her deafness, which entails fatigue which can then impinge on mental health issues. Being honest helps her get the support she needs.