Thinking back to when I found myself the only deaf girl in a school of 500 hearing girls, I can feel my heart beating fast and my palms beginning to sweat – the nightmares I had for years were of myself a bare inch high surrounded by huge black and menacing figures were undoubtedly a reaction to that sense of being small, alone and isolated in this place of strange noises that meant nothing to me, of hordes of chattering cheerful young women, of unintelligible information about subjects at first completely unfamiliar to me.
It would not be true to say these feelings were continuous and, by dint of copious reading round subjects, of straining to lipread the teachers and a hefty dose of bloody mindedness, I survived and managed to achieve some O and A Levels. In the sixth form, I found schooldays easier to cope with, largely due to the understanding of two teachers who always did what I needed to ensure did understood their lessons. I guess by then, too, I had perfected my thick skin over the pain and my classmates seemed more willing to communicate effectively with me.
Do I wish I had gone to a ‘special’ school? Emotionally and socially – yes. Educationally? Given the choice in those days of education for deaf children of having to leave home or be educated minimally with low expectations – no. My mother did not want me to go to boarding school and on balance, I am thankful, although it took me several years to discover the utter pleasure of meeting other deaf people and making lifelong friendships, as well as learning BSL and marvelling at the beauty, the economy and creativity of sign language.