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April 19, 2003

'Learning to live in two worlds'

From: BBC, UK - Apr 19, 2003

Teaching your child to communicate can be frustrating and tricky for any parent.

But for the Cobb family from Surrey, it could have proved doubly difficult.

For parents Yvonne and Reg are both deaf, but their daughter Serena is hearing.

However three-year-old Serena has proved it is possible to straddle the hearing and non-hearing world with incredible ease.


Since the age of eight months, Serena has been able to sign. By the time she was two she had a signing vocabulary of over 200 words, compared to an average child with just 30 words.

With the help of a hearing childminder and nursery she is also able to communicate fluently vocally.

And Yvonne, whose parents were also deaf, said she was delighted her daughter got the best of both worlds.

"I was concerned that Serena wouldn't be able to understand the sign language, but as soon as she was growing up Reg and I signed naturally with her and Serena picked them up dramatically.

"She responded in sign language as well and we gave her loads of humour.

"She is a happy child and loves mingling with hearing and deaf people.


"Since she was about eight months old and till now, we have always made sure that she gets involved with sign language and that she has freedom with both deaf and hearing worlds.

"So far, so good. She is an adaptable girl.

"I ensure that Serena is developing well with her speech with her childminder and nursery when I go to work part-time. Yet at the same time, I encourage Serena to be fluent in sign language so that she can communicate with us as parents, comfortably and not with a strain.

"It is important that Serena feels that way.

"Recently, as she is now three, when I take her to a circus or a show I have to make extra arrangements to make sure that the public places provide interpreters so that I don't miss out what Serena is learning from them."


But Yvonne stressed that she and her husband had not been concerned whether their child would be born hearing or not.

"I was pleased for Serena's benefit that she could hear and she won't have to go through some barriers.

"But to be really honest with you, we didn't really mind whether she was hearing or deaf.

"If she was deaf we would also be pleased! Some people may find it strange but that is a positive attitude and outlook that we have in our lives."

Yvonne said that parenting Serena had been relatively smooth and that she had kept a vibrating baby alarm under her pillow to alert her when Serena cried.

"Whenever she cried as a baby, the speaker would get her cries and would trigger off our vibrating pad. Not very nice when it is the middle of the night!

"It also has a flashing light combined with it so the room lit up whenever Serena cried."

She also had a baby monitor with coloured flashing lights which she carried with her during the day, to alert her if Serena was unhappy during her nap times.


But Yvonne, who works for Deafax a charity promoting better communication for deaf people through the use of technology, said she had needed extra help during the pregnancy with interpreters to help her during the antenatal classes.

But she said the hospital experience had been marred slightly by the medics lack of understanding.

"I had supportive midwives during labour but after Serena was born I transferred to the post natal ward and I immediately felt a different environment there.

"Many of the midwives didn't inform me of what was happening like when the lunch was ready, or when there was a lady going round the ward with the birth register.

"I didn't really have a good experience around that time and I desperately wanted to go home.

"Many of them were not deaf aware. If only they knew how to sit down still or speak a little slower or be gentle with me, things would be different.

"As soon as I left the hospital to go home, I was a lot happier."