My Three Kids May Be Deaf .. but They Have All Made Me So Proud; Frances Dolan's Three Children Were All Born Deaf Because of a Rare Gene Defect - but They Have Shown True Grit to Ensure Their Disabilities Don't Stop Them Living Their Lives to the Full

Article excerpt

Byline: MARIA CROCE

EVERY night, Frances Dolan logs on to her computer and chats on-line with her daughter Mary Frances, who lives hundreds of miles away.

Like any proud mum, she loves to find out about all that is going on in her grown-up daughter's life.

But Frances will never be able to just pick up the phone and speak to her eldest child, who works as a science teacher in London.

Mary Frances is profoundly deaf - just like her sister Katrina, 21, and her 13-year-old brother Philip.

In fact, although Frances and her husband Philip, 53, can both hear normally, amazingly all three of their children are deaf.

But rather than letting the condition wreck their lives, Frances has learned sign language and now helps parents of other deaf children to cope.

For the last five months, Frances has been working at the West of Scotland Deaf Children's Society, a charity she has supported for years, giving advice to parents on subjects ranging from education to benefits.

She said: "I wanted to give something back after all the help I've received from the group over the years - and this seemed the best way of doing it."

Frances, 51, of Chryston, North Lanarkshire, still doesn't know why her own children are deaf. With no history of deafness in the family, she says it's a mystery that her three children have been affected.

She said: "Doctors told me the deafness was down to a recessive gene. One day I want to do some research and find out the truth."

Frances' children have excelled despite their communication problems.

All three have attended a mixture of mainstream schools with special help and units for the deaf. They can all speak, lip read and sign. They have been fitted with hearing aids which give them an awareness of sound - but they can't perceive speech.

Frances and Philip longed for children, but had begun to resign themselves to being childless after trying for seven years.

But when Frances finally became pregnant and their first child, Mary Frances, was born, they were ecstatic. They had no reason to suspect there could be anything wrong with her. Frances said: "She was a beautiful, baby with lots of dark hair. We thought she was responding to us when we said 'bye bye' or 'hello' to her."

At eight months, Mary Frances failed to respond when a health visitor shook a rattle behind her, but Frances and Philip were still convinced it could only be a minor problem.

Frances said: "We thought she had some hearing because we're sure she said 'bye bye' to us at about 10 months.

"When we played with her and told her to kick a ball, she would kick it, but now I think she was watching our gestures and maybe reading our lips."

It was only when Mary Frances was about a year old they discovered she was profoundly deaf. …