Here at Taking Flight, we have long had a dream of opening a youth theatre specifically for D/ deaf and Hard of Hearing young people. D/deaf children are so often excluded from mainstream after school activity, whether that be sports, arts or social stuff, because there is no funding for communication access, or awareness of the best way to welcome D/deaf children and support them in feeling that they belong.
40% of D/deaf children experience mental ill health (compared to 25% of children without additional access needs). But the fact that struck us deepest was this- D/deaf young people are MUCH more likely to describe themselves as "friendless" than their hearing peers....
Just think for a second how it must feel to be in a playground, aged 8 or 10 or even in a canteen aged 16 and feel like you're friendless and that you can't do anything about it. Schools, swimming pools, scout groups, youth theatres- they're noisy places. Everyone speaks or shouts at the same time. They're all running around. No one is looking at each other's faces. If you're D/deaf, how are you going to get in there and make a friend?
Many of the D/deaf actors we work with said they found acting as a means to try and reach out, to communicate and to make connection. That's what inspired us to start our Deaf lead youth theatre for D/deaf and HOH children.
Why Deaf lead? Because young D/deaf people should be able to see positive Deaf role models- people achieving in their fields, as leaders. "If you can't see it, you can't be it" And also because ... it should be Deaf lead. No one will understand the barriers faced by the participants better than a Deaf leader.
We first met Dylan back in 2015 when we ran 2 weeks of drama summer school for Deaf children. Dylan was then 6 cheeky, fun and full of ideas.
Dylan was born hearing and lost his hearing when he was around the age of 1. His mum told us he was then cochlear implanted around the age of 3 which she says has allowed him to learn sounds and speech again.
Dylan came to our summer school with his best pal, so that they would both have more confidence to participate together. The fact that the sessions were led by one of our amazingly talented Deaf actors, Stephen, was a real positive for Dylan. You could sense all of the young people’s confidence improving as they watched a talented Deaf adult leading the way, being creative , (a bit silly) and achieving.
Despite his initial shyness, at the end of the week, Dylan was able to take part in a sharing where some of the parents came along to see what we’d all been up to. His cheeky sense of humour and brilliant physical comic timing then became really evident and his confidence in his own abilities had grown massively during the week.
We kept in touch with Dylan and he came with us on a field trip that same year to see the Christmas shows that were BSL interpreted at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, his Mum joining the family up to the theatre’s access scheme so that they could experience more theatre with Dylan in the future as he seemed to enjoy it so much.
Dylan also came along to the taster days we ran in 2017 as part of our viability testing for the new permanent Youth Theatre. He was evidently developing a real talent for performing, but apart from the sporadic sessions we were running, there was- and has been- nowhere accessible for him to exercise this talent. There was nowhere for him to grow and develop as a young actor, for his confidence in this area to be nurtured. Taking Flight’s new provision will be the only place in Wales that is focussed on and completely accessible for D/deaf and HOH young people in drama. The only place for Dylan and his peers to flourish in confidence and skills through drama.
Dylan is now 11 years old and has just started high school. It's a mainstream school with a “hearing impaired” resource base which gives the children additional help when needed within lessons. Dylan is a fantastic signer (BSL) but loses confidence in doing so when he’s not around other BSL users. He always loves getting involved in new things and hopefully making some new friends. Dylan has tried a few after school activities such as Scouts and tennis but unfortunately, he couldn’t stay attending these groups as the environments were too loud and not suitable for his cochlear implants as the sound was overwhelming. Dylan then felt he wasn’t really involved, was isolated from the other children, and decided to leave.
Dylan’s Mum says “It would be great to see a group set up solely for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing children where they can come along, have fun, be with other children the ‘same’ as them also and most of all make friends.” Dylan will also benefit form the sessions lead by a Deaf professional, as he will see positive Deaf role models. He will be able to participate in BSL and English as he wishes.
Dylan confirms his Mum’s comments by saying he would like to meet more Deaf young people outside of the school setting, because “they are the same as me”.
You can be part of giving Dylan a chance to meet other young Deaf people, part of making the Youth Theatre happen, making it all it can be and providing better futures for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing children in Wales.
Photos: Kyriacos Asprou