Teacher Julie has given us hope for the future

Teacher Julie Carter has worked with deaf children in Norfolk for 30 years. As she retires, Derek James discovers how she has helped one Norwich family.

Little Noah Hutchings is not yet two years old, but he is already learning two languages.

Noah talks with his hands, and can say a few words too, despite being profoundly deaf.

Today his parents are full of optimism about Noah's future and want to pay tribute to a woman they met on the day he was diagnosed.

Julie Carter has just retired as a teacher of the deaf. For 30 years she has been helping deaf children overcome their difficulties, and Noah was one of her final pupils.

Cerian Hutchings, Noah's mum, remembers: 'We first met Julie the same day we found out that Noah was deaf.'

Cerian, and her husband Matt, of Henderson Road, Norwich, were first told Noah had hearing problems when he was eight weeks old, and four weeks later learnt that he was profoundly deaf.

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'It was a huge shock. We hadn't suspected anything was wrong with his hearing, and having had a straightforward pregnancy and birth it was totally unexpected,' said Cerian. 'Also, neither of us knew any deaf people, or had any experience of deafness so we were really apprehensive of what the future held.'

Julie visited the same day.

'Meeting Julie has been great, she reassured us that Noah should be able to have the same future we had imagined for him, and that he should be able to achieve everything he wants,' said Cerian.

'She explained all the things that were likely to happen, and all the people we were likely to meet. There are a lot of appointments and new terminology to get to grips with.'

Noah is currently being assessed for cochlear implant hearing aids, which will take sound directly to his auditory nerve.

Cerian and Matt, who both work at the University of East Anglia, had never come across a deaf child. 'This is a hidden condition that people either don't talk about or aren't aware of but around one in 1,000 children are born deaf and most parents with deaf children have no history of deafness in their families,' said Cerian.

After talking through all the options they decided to use a system of sign language and spoken words with Noah. 'We've been signing with Noah since he was four months old and he's really signing a lot now,' said Cerian. 'Basically we sign along with what we're saying and this gives Noah a really big clue, along with the sound he's getting from his hearing aids and by lip reading, so that taking all these clues together he can work out what's going on.'

Local charity Deaf Connexions arranged for a specially trained deaf tutor to visit the family regularly and teach them sign language – as well as acting as a deaf role model for Noah. 'That's been brilliant,' said Cerian. All Noah's grandparents are now learning sign language too, and two of his aunts ran this year's London marathon for deaf charities.

And Julie's regular visits also help Noah build his language skills through play.

Julie always wanted to teach deaf children – and has just retired after a career spent helping many hundreds of youngsters achieve success despite their hearing problems.

She became known as Norfolk's expert on a system of teaching deaf children language called 'cued speech.' In it, sounds are represented by different hand-shapes, so that any word can be shown, as well as said. She taught many families how to use cued speech, and helped children learn to lip-read and speak English, through the system.

She also learnt sign language although she said: 'When I first started teaching deaf children it was very much a period when signing was not used. Thankfully now we are at a stage where there is informed choice for parents.'

New technology has brought some of the biggest changes – with hugely improved hearing aids and, most significantly of all, the advent of cochlear implants. This has given many more deaf children access to a world of sound, and heard and spoken language.

When Julie began working she said she had to fundraise to buy children specialised hearing aids.

Another big change has been the age of the children she works with. Today, babies have their hearing tested at birth. 'They can be diagnosed at a few days old and have their first hearing aids at a few weeks old so they don't miss out on all that vital early exposure to sound,' said Julie.

She still hears from families she helped many years ago.

'I've loved it and it's been an absolute privilege to be welcomed into the homes of parents and young children,' she said. Now she hopes to enjoy photography and crafts after taking early retirement.

'She has really helped us to come to terms with having a deaf child,' said Cerian. 'Finding out your child is deaf is obviously a huge shock but the support we have received, from Julie and from all the other health and learning professionals we have met, has been incredible. We're very lucky to live in Norfolk because it has such great support for deaf children and their families. We're also lucky to have an amazing, bright and very happy little boy.

'Julie was right, he can achieve anything he wants and being deaf isn't holding him back at all!'