First Tasmanian Family Camp Made a World of Difference

Everyone had a fantastic time at the Tasmanian Family Camp at Camp Banksia in beautiful Port Sorell from 6 – 8 November. One of DCA’s new Board members, Shannon Fox, who founded the Tasmanian Families of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children parents of deaf group, did an amazing job organising the camp with support from Deaf Children Australia and a team of wonderful volunteers, including some great Deaf role models from Tassie – Jeanette Symonds, Brendan Wright and Joy Churchill.

Reflecting on the success of the camp, Shannon told us, “Camp included a flexible itinerary of games, crafts, group sessions, a parents’ forum with adults who had grown up deaf and even a visit by Devonport Football Club courtesy of AFL Tasmania.  Damon and Nolan Fox of Flying Fox circus provided circus bikes, and taught juggling and diabolo skills – even the adults had a go!  Kristen Desmond of Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby attended and gave us lots of useful information on what ‘reasonable adjustments’ means in the classroom, and how to be a proactive part of an Individual Education planning session.

“Deaf, hard of hearing and siblings who attended were amazed at the use of Auslan happening casually among adults and other kids.  We talked about caption machines available at local cinemas and how we use technology to assist in better communication both in the classroom, in sports, and in our everyday lives like listening to our favourite music.  We were very lucky to have the volunteer services of Auslan interpreters Kath Maingay and Ray Hilsdon in addition to DCA’s Community Development Worker Greg Frost, and former DCA Recreation Support Worker, Jeff Don.

“One of the highlights of the camp was the group dinner Saturday night.  Tired, sunburnt kids and adults sat down to a feast prepared by Camp Banksia.  Looking around I was overwhelmed at what we were creating – a community; deaf and hearing sitting together communicating; no one isolated.”

‘It’s great for us to live in Chelsea’s world for a while’

Jonelle Willcox shared with us why it was important for her family to attend the camp with their ten year old daughter Chelsea and twelve year old daughter Yolanda: “We could chat to parents and make new friends. Chelsea was really excited to be there.  It was really nice to see Chelsea signing with the Deaf role models. She learns sign at school but doesn’t tend to use it much outside school so that was fantastic. We feel like we try to fit Chelsea into a hearing world but really, she’s deaf, and it’s great to see her in the Deaf community. It’s a reminder for us that we do have a deaf daughter. It’s great for us as a family to live in Chelsea’s world for a while.

“Listening to the other families’ experiences, it makes us recognise what we’re going through and makes it real. Anyone in this situation tries to live this life, get by and do what we have to do. We have support for Chelsea at school but she just gets on with it most of the time and she is an inspiration for us. It is so important for us to acknowledge we do have a deaf daughter and the challenges she faces. It’s also important for us to surround ourselves with similar people who understand and have walked the same path – that helps.”

After camp, life changed for Blake

 Blake and his family from North West Tasmania attended the camp and came away feeling better connected and more empowered. A little while ago, Blake’s mum Cassandra shared on Facebook how she and Blake were feeling about his difficult experiences at school where he was feeling isolated. We are thrilled at how they have managed to change this situation to access the support Blake needs. Cassandra shared this message first:

“My son Blake has a severe high frequency hearing loss. He has hearing aids and has only been diagnosed a year ago. He is two years behind in all areas of his learning and as a result, we do extra work at home. Blake has no help provided at school as he doesn’t qualify for this.

He goes to a private school which we pay the earth for. Blake came to me today and said he is passionate about helping other children to be able to go to school and learn easier and not feel so different, like you are a burden for your peers and teacher. It broke my heart to hear him tell me. Whilst he knows he has to deal with feeling so alone and different in this world, he doesn’t want other children to have to go through school the way he does – feeling isolated.

Where on earth in this state will people listen and help? Blake doesn’t understand why every day he has hurdles to overcome. When relief teachers and other people come in and don’t know how to teach him, he just sits through a lesson without understanding any of it. Blake sees other children who receive help that have met the criteria for funding. Because he can hear some things, he gets nothing. I can’t explain to him why this is. Blake clearly struggles and I just have to sit back and support him with love and understanding.

I am ashamed at our government and education system to let my child go through this and say he isn’t deaf enough – deal with it. Very seriously contemplating home schooling him because our education system is failing him.”

Cassandra then told us at Deaf Children Australia how she wants things to change for Blake:

“If we could get the right supports with Blake’s education, everything could change for him. I want him to feel ‘I can do this, I just need a little extra help. I don’t need to feel like I am a burden any more.’ He could have a chance to blossom. He wouldn’t have to try to bluff his way through – he wouldn’t have to feel so anxious and embarrassed.

If everyone in Blake’s life could understand how much harder it is for him, they could change the way they communicate. He wants to learn and he is bright. One on one, Blake is great. He just needs to be able to hear the teachers. I am lobbying for Blake to have the right technology at school to support his learning.

Blake excels in anything visual like computers and in every sport, which gives him a sense of accomplishment. I want him to feel that in the classroom as well.

As a family, we are trying to make communication easier for Blake as well as my husband Simon who has the same level of hearing loss. We use captions on TV and we hope to learn Auslan as a family so we can better communicate with each other and with other deaf children and adults who could act as mentors. We are connecting up with other families and Blake is meeting other kids who are deaf or hard of hearing like him. We’re going on a family camp soon which should be fantastic. So in the future, on bad days, Blake could jump online and chat to his friends who can understand what he’s going through.

I want Blake to be inspired. He is a special little character, grown up beyond his years. I believe that he can overcome his troubles and as he said, use those experiences to help other kids turn their lives around. Blake should be able to finish school and feel confident he will get the support he needs to achieve that. He should have opportunities for higher education to become a graphic designer or web designer. We are just trying to help him realise his dreams.”

After attending the family camp, Blake and Cassandra were determined to try again to change the situation:

“I wanted to share. Thanks to our camp and all the information that I was given, not to mention the confidence I have now, I had a big meeting with our school and progress has been made. Blake is having three short breaks a day where he listens to music quietly in a bean bag to help him rest. He struggles by afternoon to focus at all.

The big plus is his classroom is going to learn some Auslan to help with playground communication. Next year we are looking at an aid just for him one on one every day maybe half days in the mornings where he will do most of his main subjects.

Blake went into a meeting at school today and articulated how he feels so well and what he doesn’t understand.”

We are so happy you are getting this support now Blake and Cassandra!

If you’re in Tassie and want to link in with other families, go to the Tasmanian Families of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children Facebook page.


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