Campaign to save St Joseph’s House

 

 

Action by deaf to save facility

Deaf community argues that their needs are different from those with other disabilities, writes John Cradden

Wed, May 29, 2013

 

The Irish deaf community has begun a grassroots campaign against the possible closure of the only residential care facility for deaf and deaf/blind people in the Republic.

The long-term future of St Joseph’s Home for Deaf and Deaf/Blind in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, is in doubt because of a new HSE/Department of Health policy that aims to close all institutions – or “congregational settings” – that provide residential care for people with disabilities over the next seven years.

The policy aims to move people with disabilities out of these institutions and integrate them into the wider community to either live alone or in shared accommodation with up to ten other residents.

St Joseph’s currently houses 29 residents and has a waiting list. Staff are trained in Irish Sign Language (ISL), and most of the residents sign.

The prospect of the home’s closure has alarmed large numbers of people in the Irish deaf community and prompted a Facebook campaign that has already attracted over 1,600 members.

One of those involved in the campaign, John Bosco-Conama, said: “I think the congregated settings policy militates disproportionately against the deaf community because it does not take account of ISL and deaf culture.”

Liam O’Dwyer, chief executive of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People (CIDP), which owns St Joseph’s, says that while his organisation agrees with the general thrust of the new policy, St Joseph’s Home deserves to be made an exception.

He says that when gathering information to back up the policy, researchers for the HSE did “not research” the situation with regards to residents who are deaf or deaf/blind, and have simply thrown them into the same category as residents with intellectual disabilities.

“What we’re saying is deaf people want to be together, from a communication and a cultural point of view.

“That’s what makes this different,” said O’Dwyer.

The policy makes an exception for congregational settings classified as “intentional communities” – communities of people who actively want to be together – but it is understood the HSE is challenging efforts by the CIDP for St Joseph’s to be recognised as one.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Kathleen Lynch, has met the CIDP and is aware of its concerns, but is “confident that that the HSE will progress this policy in conjunction with all those involved, including agencies providing services to people with a disability”.

The CIDP has already agreed with the HSE that it will have to move out of the Stillorgan building within the next four years because it has been deemed unsuitable in the long-term. It is planning a proposal for a new residential home structure based in or beside the new Deaf Village Ireland campus in Cabra, Dublin.

But in the meantime, the CIDP says the short-term viability of the current facility, which has accommodation for up to 36 residents, is under threat because of a freeze in HSE funding for new applicants despite an eight-strong waiting list.

There are currently 29 residents, but it needs at least 33 to break even.

This article first appeared in the Irish Times

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All welcome as deaf village opens its doors

 

HAX.HS05DEAFVILLAGE.2769894.1Deaf Village Ireland , Cabra, Dublin, was officially opened by Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennells

New village includes sports centre, swimming pool, conference facilities, offices, classrooms, a chapel, a social lounge and a cafe, writes JOHN CRADDEN

For a state-of-the-art sports and social complex, the choice of name is a bold one. Yet there it is, in huge letters above the entrance: Deaf Village Ireland. Located off the Ratoath Road in Cabra, Dublin, it’s very much open to the local community and, indeed, that patronage will be essential to the facility’s long-term viability.

It features a state-of-the-art sports centre and swimming pool, conference facilities, meeting rooms, several offices, classrooms, a chapel, a social lounge and a cafe.

Just before it opened for business at the end of last month, the facility’s developers, the Catholic Institute for Deaf People (CIDP), ran a naming competition within the deaf community in a bid to come up with an alternative – perhaps more neutral – name for the €15 million facility.

But the “deaf village” tag clearly stuck, and Deaf Village Ireland (DVI) it was. It suggests a new confidence among members of the signing deaf community, and implies that they are very much in charge here.

But are they? According to Liam O’Dwyer, the chief executive of the CIDP, there are currently two boards of management: a subsidiary board of the CIDP that was set up to build the centre and which runs the sports centre, and a newer, independent board that runs the whole of DVI.

The majority of seats on the independent board are filled by deaf people, while the subsidiary CIDP board is 50:50 deaf and hearing. The aim is that the independent board will eventually take over the running of everything, including the sports centre. “The strategy of the DVI was to enable and encourage the deaf community to manage its own business,” he said.

More input and control

At the old deaf club in Drumcondra, which was sold in 2008, “the deaf community was the tenant, but CIDP owned and ran the place. Now, at Deaf Village Ireland, the deaf community owns and runs the place, and CIDP is one of the tenants”.

Those who work for different deaf organisations now based in the DVI agree that the deaf community has been given substantially more input and control over the facility, and it marks a very significant change to allowing the development to become a truly community-led enterprise.

Kevin Stanley, founder of disability organisation Inclusive Enterprises and a consultant to the village project, says that, before 2006, there was little communication between the deaf community and the CIDP management. “We didn’t even know who the chairman was. We didn’t even know who was on the board.”

He credits the appointment of Fr Michael Cullen as chairman in 2006 as the start of the change. Some independent research into the problems with the organisation was commissioned, for which the overwhelming feedback from the deaf community was scathing.

“A lot of deaf people in the deaf community were really frustrated and angry with CIDP because they felt like it controlled the deaf community,” he says.

Stanley believes there is still some way to go before CIDP hands over complete responsibility, but Sylvia Nolan, the manager of DVI, says it’s unrealistic to expect so much change overnight.

Privately voiced concerns

“It’s hard for them to step back, because they have done a lot,” she says. “I can see it myself, as I am working here all the time. It will take time. At the same time, I have to applaud the CIDP because they are stepping back and letting go. It’s slowly, but surely. But it’s difficult for them, and to achieve a balance as well.”

On the other hand, some in the community have privately voiced concerns about what they see as an overemphasis on the sports centre to the detriment of the rest of the facility. But so far, it seems to be doing well to attract members from the local community – 1,600 (now 2,200 as of March) people have signed up to the sports centre so far, the vast majority of whom are hearing.

So while the village is set to be a welcoming, highly inclusive place, there should be no question about who is running things, says Tracey Trainor, who is deaf and works in the Irish Deaf Society offices in DVI. “Deaf Village Ireland is open to everyone, but it’s deaf-led and deaf-run. Irish Sign Language will be the first language here.”

Reasonable balance

Dr John Bosco Conama, assistant professor and lecturer at the Centre for Deaf Studies in Trinity College, concedes that it’s early days for the new deaf-led regime, but that they need to grasp the opportunity to develop their confidence and leadership skills in order to achieve a reasonable balance between remaining financially sustainable and providing much-needed resources to the deaf community.

He hopes that much of the value of DVI will be in celebrating diversity in Irish society by promoting awareness of the deaf community, its language and culture.

But he adds that also it would provide a safe haven from “campaigns of misinformation and repression against Irish Sign Language” over the past few decades and which he says are still running today.

“We are constantly told to recognise and respect diversity in cultures and religions, but I have not seen this being extended to the deaf community,” he says.

This article first appeared in the Irish Times

 

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The village for everyone

As a €15m state-of-the-art facility for the deaf opens in Dublin, John Cradden, who is deaf, looks at the challenges faced by a community trying to keep its identity while pursuing social integration

Picture: Deaf Village Ireland in Cabra, Dublin, which is being officially opened next week, is a one-stop shop for deaf services but also welcomes members of the wider local community to the sports centre and swimming pool.
By John Cradden

YOU could call it the mother of all deaf clubs. Deaf Village Ireland is an impressive €15 million sports and social facility in Cabra, Dublin, which is being officially opened next week.

It features a state-of-the-art sports centre and swimming pool, conference facilities, meeting rooms, several offices, classrooms, a chapel, a social lounge and a café. It’s a stunning space, bright, spacious, well-lit and accessible.

The people behind the centre have also persuaded nearly all of the national organisations working for deaf people to take up offices here, creating a one-stop shop for deaf services. But despite the facility’s bold name, the sports centre and swimming pool is very much open to the wider local community.

Indeed, attracting local people will be critical to the success and financial viability of DVI and, so far, it has already signed up over 2,200 members in the space of a few months. I’m curious about this place because, while I’m deaf and know a bit of Irish Sign Language (ISL), I didn’t grow up in the ‘deaf world’. I went to ‘hearing’ schools, and nearly all of my friends are hearing. Will I be welcome here?

We also live in a country where there is a very strong drive to integrate services and facilities for people with disabilities into the wider community — not focus them all in one place. Yet that seems to be what is happening here.

Liam O’Dwyer, chief executive of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People (CIDP), admits he had a hard time convincing ministers, TDs and officials that this urban village-style development wouldn’t become a ‘deaf ghetto’.

“They don’t understand that it is not a disability issue, but a communication one,” he said. “They are only convinced when they come here, because they see that it isn’t a ghetto, it is an inclusive facility with as many hearing people — and indeed more hearing people — from the local community and the deaf community all mixing together.”

In the ‘Rathmines Room’, I talk with DVI’s manager, Sylvia Nolan, and a number of other deaf people working for different organisations now based in the facility. They explain that the room is named after the old Rathmines deaf club, a much-loved meeting place for the Dublin deaf community for many years until 1989, when it moved to the much less-liked location in Drumcondra.

“It was great, everybody loved it,” says Nolan. “Then, when they moved to Drumcondra, the young people and the older groups kind of separated. Some of the older people went to Drumcondra and they used it.

“But in the Deaf Village, it’s kind of bringing back the old times where we have the younger generation and the older generation. You can feel the atmosphere. Everybody loves it here.”

Paul Ryder, who works in Deaf Sports Ireland, was only a baby when the Rathmines club closed but he, too, never liked it. “I used to call it the ‘dead club’, not the deaf club, because there were no young people going.”

Kevin Lynch, who also works in Deaf Sports Ireland, says the centre is already proving a big draw. “I have seen lots of new faces, people who I never saw in Drumcondra. It’s also open seven days a week. There’s lots of different things on and, obviously, with the sports centre, it’s pulling in a lot of new people.”

On the other hand, there is also a strong sense of a community fighting for its survival. It has always been very small — ISL is estimated to be the first language of around 4,000 deaf people — but it may be getting smaller.

This is because the numbers enrolled at deaf schools have been steadily falling thanks to the huge push towards sending deaf children to mainstream schools, better hearing aids and the availability of cochlear implants. This is having an obvious knock-on effect on the strength and vibrancy of the community.

However, while this might seem to most of us like progress, there is a growing body of evidence to show that a significant minority of deaf children still don’t do well in a mainstream school setting.

The CIDP also runs the deaf schools. “What makes it such a hard sell for us is that, for every child who doesn’t do well [in a mainstream school], there are three or four who do great, because the levels of hearing are always different,” says O’Dwyer.

Some of these children may do very well academically, he says, but there is a strong sense that many are worse off in terms of social connections and inclusion, which can result in isolation and low self-esteem.

“Our experience would tell us that many deaf people find themselves isolated socially, regardless of how well they do.”

But by being a top-class facility with a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere (notwithstanding the name), there is a hope that DVI will become a showcase for all that is good about deaf culture.

So, you don’t have to know ISL to use the sports centre or any other part of DVI, but it’s a perfect place to go if you’re interested in learning — whether you’re non-signing deaf, hard of hearing or hearing.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner

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Why would you ride an electric bicycle?

Wednesday January 16 2013

 

I LIKE bicycles. I like the way they look and their engineering simplicity. I like the fact that they help you get fit and don’t clog up the roads.

I ride a bike at least once every day and, half the time, my two kids are with me. It pleases me to see more and more people riding bicycles today, too.

But every so often I see someone riding an electric bicycle. When I do, I can’t stop staring at them and thinking, why?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a bicycle purist, but I just can’t get my head around the idea of electric bicycles.

To me, they are a paradox. Riding one is, essentially, cheating.

They also tend to look very ugly, are no doubt very heavy and, seem incredibly expensive. A half-decent one will set you back the guts of €1,500, and more.

Smugness

One of the traditional appeals of the humble bicycle is its (relative) cheapness.

But, for the price of the average electric bike, you could buy a decent 50cc moped or even a secondhand electric scooter.

So when I pedal up beside an electric bike user at traffic lights, I look over and try to look for the shame in their eyes. But I don’t see it. In fact, I’m more likely to be met with a look of smugness or a beaming smile.

Am I missing something here?

Well, there’s no doubting the stats. Last year, 31m electric bikes were sold worldwide, and sales are projected to hit 50m by 2018.

They remain a relatively rare sight in Dublin, but that may well change soon.

I’ve never ridden an electric bike. So, I asked the genial Olivier at Dublin electric bicycle retailer, Greenaer, if I could have a go on one.

I tried an electric mountain bike made by BH (cost: €2,250) that, much to my surprise, looked very like a conventional one as the battery is built into the frame. The only visual giveaway was the huge size of the rear hub, which contained the electric motor. Most electric bikes are ‘pedelecs’, which means the electric motor only kicks in when you start pedalling.

You certainly feel the difference from the first half-revolution of pedalling: it just surged forward and before I knew it I had to brake hard to stop myself careering through a junction. Good job it had effective disc brakes. Janey Mac!

After a few minutes adjusting to the assistance, the sheer effortlessness in moving off became addictive.

So much so that, every time I approached a set of traffic lights, I was almost willing them to turn red just so I could stop, switch the power dial to maximum, and pedal off hard at the green and … whoooosh.

It also, as you might expect — flattened hills. However, EU rules regarding pedelecs mean that the electric assistance tails off once you are up to a reasonable cruising speed and stops altogether if you are going faster than 25kph. That’s when you feel the limitations of the much higher weight, although it was still lighter than the Dublin Bike I rode earlier.

But I still felt like a cheat. I’m sure other road users were wondering if I had more than just Weetabix for breakfast.

In fairness to Olivier, he’s heard all the cynics, but he knows his market. Like folk with less than perfect health, such as diabetic Gordon Birch, of Dun Laoghaire.

He had not ridden a bicycle for 40-odd years until three months ago, when he bought a Kalkhoff pedelec from Greenaer through the cycle-to-work tax scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since then, he has cycled the 9km to work every day along a route that takes him up and down the hilly Vico Road. He has already had to tighten his belt a few notches. No doubt his GP is delighted.

Limitations

Electric bikes also make sense for people living further outside cities or who want to commute a longer distance by bike but are not big into fitness. Or who don’t want to arrive at their destination drenched in sweat.

It will also appeal to folk who like the idea of doing a long cycle tour, but get tired at the thought of pedalling up the steep inclines of the Ring of Kerry on a bike weighed down by heavy panniers.

So, horses for courses. And if they get more of us cycling, that can’t be a bad thing. But for city dwellers in good health, the answer is no. You’ve no excuse.

This article first appeared in the Evening Herald

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Can we criticise a mum who wants her child to hear?

It’s wrong, says John Cradden, to accuse star mother of ‘abuse’ for wanting her girl to have better hearing

Wednesday December 12 2012

YOU may have read the story last week about the EastEnders actress, Rita Simons, who wants her deaf six-year-old daughter, Maiya, to hear better by having an operation to get a cochlear implant. But Simons, who plays Roxy Mitchell, says she was told she would be “abusing” the child if she went through with it.

Why would anyone think that giving your child a cochlear implant would count as abuse?

You might also be wondering what exactly a cochlear implant is.

It is essentially a special kind of hearing aid that is surgically inserted deep inside the inner ear.

It stimulates the parts of the hearing ‘nerve’ that a conventional hearing aid can’t, enabling many profoundly and totally deaf people the opportunity to experience sound.

The operation to insert them into your inner ear is quite a serious one (it involves drilling into bits of skull bone, for instance), but is now considered a fairly routine procedure and not particularly risky. I know all this because I have a cochlear implant.

artificial

In fact, cochlear implants have been around for years and are now very common.

Over 200,000 deaf people worldwide have them, making it one of the most widely used prosthetics, after hip replacements or heart pacemakers.

In Ireland, nearly 500 adults and children have gotten implants from Beaumont Hospital, which has run the national cochlear implant programme since 1995.

But a cochlear implant is not a ‘miracle’ cure for deafness. It doesn’t restore hearing; it replaces it with an almost completely artificial system that is nowhere near as good as normal hearing.

And because it is a totally new way of hearing, it can take quite a long time to get used to it.

But once you adjust to it, it can give you very serviceable, useful hearing. However, it doesn’t work for everyone, while others may only get limited benefit.

It now works really well for me and the chances are it could work well for Maiya, too, but her mother knows full well that it won’t give her perfect hearing.

Nonetheless, she says she encountered “extraordinary” hostility from “people who firmly believe that deafness should be embraced rather than treated as a physical deficiency that should be corrected”.

“I respect their point of view,” Simons told Hello! magazine. “But when a 19-year-old girl told me that I was an ‘abuser’ to let my child have a cochlear implant, I was horrified and deeply hurt.”

But why would anyone “embrace” their deafness?

I didn’t grow up in the deaf world, but I’ve met and gotten to know many signing deaf people. And what I understand now is that not every deaf person wants to be ‘fixed’. In fact, some people are very happy to be deaf.

Leaving aside the fact that implants don’t do much for anyone who has been deaf for all or most of their lives, choosing not to get one doesn’t condemn them to deafness in terms of communication because they have sign language.

So proud are they of sign language, members of a deaf community typically consider themselves not as a group of people with disabilities, but as a distinct cultural group with its own language.

Irish Sign Language, like British Sign Language, French Sign Language and American Sign Language (yes, they’re all different), are fully fledged languages with just as much complexity and sophistication as spoken languages.

But years ago, when cochlear implants starting getting popular, the media over-hyped them as hearing ‘cures’ when they were anything but.

The hype fed a genuine fear among deaf people that cochlear implants would effectively kill off their deaf communities and wipe out sign languages.

This deep-seated fear has lead to the kind of hostility that Simons was recently exposed to.

music

The truth is, some of their fears are being realised — albeit slowly.

Thanks partly to cochlear implants and better hearing aids, the numbers going to deaf schools have fallen sharply, leading to a weaker and less vibrant deaf community.

But deaf communities are adapting and cochlear implants are now much more widely accepted among the ‘culturally’ deaf — because they realise it is not a hearing ‘cure’.

I know a few deaf people who got them recently — one who wanted to be more independent at work and the other so that she could hear and enjoy music more.

But they still use Irish Sign Language and they still consider themselves deaf.

But what deaf communities (including Ireland’s) would really like now is for parents of deaf children to meet with them and see that their child could benefit not just from cochlear-implant and hearing-aid technology, but also from learning sign language and being part of a strong and friendly community.

They are not mutually exclusive choices; a deaf child can grow up to have the best of both worlds.

That bigoted 19-year-old who labelled Simons an abuser probably wanted to deny her child the benefit of those choices, but there are always extreme elements in any community.

This article first appeared in the Evening Herald

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To fix or not to fix

With spare cash tight, the repairman is back in vogue, writes John Cradden

It’s a question that comes up at least a few times for everyone who owns an expensive digital device or a household appliance.

Common sense does suggest that you should at least try and see about fixing a broken and out-of-warranty computer, MP3 player, games console or smartphone; or any essential household appliance, such as a vacuum cleaner or a fridge, before shopping for a new one.

But this recurring consumer dilemma has become more pressing by our lack of spare cash at present.

Prior to the recession, many of us would probably have happily replaced an item costing up to €1,000 without even considering asking a repair firm to look at it.

But with money still tight and environmental issues more to the fore, repairing may be a cheaper and, in many ways, a better option.

When Zoe Patterson’s three-year-old laptop started to slow to a crawl, she assumed it was on its way out, and so bought a netbook thinking it would be lighter for taking into work.

The netbook proved not to be powerful enough for the self-employed drama teacher’s needs, so she started to look for a new laptop.

But after getting some advice, she decided to use a voucher for PC repair firm HelpMyPC, which she had got from a daily deals website.

“So I made the appointment and sure enough they called and we chatted for a bit about the computer, then off they went,” she said.

“About 90 minutes later, they rang back to say the job was completed, and we discussed what had been done and that was it.”

There are loads of places where you can get out-of-warranty computers repaired, from one-man-band backstreet shops to high-street chains such as Compuworld.

But since every computer can access the internet, more firms can now fix them online without the hassle of you having to leave your home — and more cheaply, to boot.

“Eighty-five per cent of problems can be fixed online,” says Ward Griffin, founder and owner of HelpMyPC, which is based in Tramore, Co Waterford. “For the other 15pc, we can arrange pick-up and drop-off service, once again saving the customer of any hassle.”

Griffin, who was inspired to set up his firm by the combination of a poor experience he once had having his laptop fixed by a multinational and the availability of remote-access software, thinks many repair firms need to improve their service.

‘There is a perception of electronics and PC repair firms as being still a bit of a backstreet industry, so what we are doing is focusing on our customer care,” he says.

HelpMyPC, which employs four technicians and plans to hire more, will do a free diagnostic. It also promises to follow up within five days to check everything is in order.

Ongoing issues over computer security and data theft means that consumers should do all they can to make sure the firm is reputable and to take steps to protect any sensitive personal data or passwords.

There have been a number of scams involving online PC repairs.

One scam that did the rounds here a couple of years ago involved consumers being called by ‘security engineers’, who claimed to be working for a multinational, warning them they had a virus on their computer.

They would try and cajole them into logging on to a website in order to run a scan– and then plant a virus — or ask them for their credit card to ‘purchase’ an online software fix.

One of the giveaways of this scam — besides the fact that the calls were unsolicited — was the €130 fee the scammers reportedly charged for the online repair which, even if it had been a genuine service, is a rip-off.

Prices for online software fixes shouldn’t exceed much more than €70, judging by a quick price survey.

Independent repair firms like HelpMyPC, The Tech Fixers and many others are also branching out into repairs of iPhones, iPads, some smartphone brands and tablets.

And although the software bits in most of these devices can’t yet be repaired online, remote access software will soon be able to fix these devices too, according to Griffin.

With cheap but decent laptops available for just €400 or so, surely upgrading might make more sense in the long-term, at least as far as these items are concerned?

Zoe says the total cost of fixing her laptop, including the cost of the €35 voucher, the online service by HelpMyPC (€39) and a Windows software fix by a local shop (€50), came to €124.

“I can’t believe the difference it has made,” she said. “It really feels like it’s new, and it’s also spurred me on to fix other bits and pieces.

“After all the bits and bobs have been cleared up, I’ve been told I’ll get two years more out of my laptop.”

“Then I was able to sell my netbook, and that brought in €165. So I was actually up by €41!

“Then I bought an iPad, but we won’t go there.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Overparenting

A US psychologist is urging parents to chill out and just let their children get on with things, writes John Cradden

Monday September 17 2012

PUSHY parents, eh? Look at their poor kids. You can almost see the deadness in their eyes. Being shuttled from one activity to another in the SUVs, seven days a week. Get a life.

Mind you, you have to wonder at the energy that drives these outwardly successful helicopter parents.

It must be exhausting, both managing a successful career and micro-managing their kids to ensure they get the best possible advantage in this dog-eat-dog, recession-riddled world.

My attitude couldn’t be more different. I can’t be bothered spending every afternoon ferrying them from music class to maths grinds and from gymnastics to GAA.

“Can I go out and play?” asks my five-year-old daughter. “No, it’s too dangerous out there, you might get run over.”

“Will you play a game with me then?” “No, I’m too busy, love”, I say, before handing her the iPad to play with.

I think I fall into a category of my own: the ‘lazy-but-overprotective parent’.

So when I stumble across an interview with US psychologist Madeline Levine about her new book, which supposedly advocates an approach termed ‘underparenting’, I’m hooked.

Here are some of the tips from her book, entitled ‘Teach Your Children Well’.

* Don’t be your children’s entertainment director (boredom forces children to make their own entertainment). Check.

* Don’t stop sibling squabbles (they’ll learn about compromise, survival and the art of negotiation). Check.

* Lose the buggy at age three (helps with exercise and communication). Our two-year-old insists on walking most of the time herself anyway, so er … check.

Levine’s previous book, ‘The Price of Privilege’, was a huge bestseller in the US. It explored why teenagers from affluent families were experiencing high rates of emotional problems, limited coping skills and disengagement from learning.

She found that it was mainly due to parents who had geared almost all their children’s lives to achieving high grades, trophies and entry into top schools and universities.

It turns out that the phenomenon is not confined to rich families but also huge swathes of middle-class households.

So the new book is an attempt to offer practical advice to parents who feel they want to change their approach in order to help their kids learn “real-world” skills that are important for success, including creativity, innovative thinking, resilience in response to failures, communication skills and the ability to collaborate.

It’s an interesting read and makes lots of salient points in a country where many parents are unhealthily obsessed with Leaving Cert points and the whole CAO merry-go-round.

Anne Conroy, training and resource service manager at children’s charity Barnados, says Ireland certainly has plenty of hyperactive parents.

“Research, which has included Irish research, has found that their over-involvement in such activities tends to cancel out the learning benefits of taking part in them.”

But she adds that there is no one way to parent.

“Every child and every family is unique, with its own background and its own way of doing things. Some of what Levine is promoting is helpful.”

When I interview Dr Levine I ask her if she really is suggesting that parents should become lazier in their approach in order to produce more rounded children.

She is livid with one newspaper’s suggestion that she’s all about ‘under-parenting’.

“I hated that article! They called it underparenting. As soon as I have time to breathe I need to write them a letter.

“The opposite of helicopter parenting or pushy parenting, or whatever, is not underparenting, it’s appropriate parenting,” she explains.

“It’s not that kids don’t need to be parented, they absolutely do. My suggestion is that instead of spending 95pc of our effort on what grades our kids get, or what college they are going to, that we pay some attention to the other aspects of character and coping skills that we know are necessary if you are going to have a reasonably successful life.”

Parents often do so much to ‘help’ their children that they end up doing more harm than good.

“It’s an exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their performance, which in turn makes them feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more overseeing.”

Levine says she is acutely aware of just how fast things are evolving in terms of what kids are learning simply because the world itself is changing so fast, so the need to learn better coping skills, for instance, becomes all the more important.

But before they try to change their approach, parents need to think about themselves first, she says.

“The first thing I would say to parents is to make sure that their own lives are in order.

“I think a lot of this hyper vigilance around kids has to do with parents feeling that they themselves are under tremendous scrutiny, or a lot of peer pressure.”

She suggests that parents get a hobby. “Make sure not everything you do is centred around your child,” she says.

“I can’t tell you how many kids have said in my office, ‘please tell my mother to get a hobby besides me.’”

She also suggests that parents learn to tolerate some distress in their kids.

“My advice always is, if you can’t stand to see your kid unhappy, you are in the wrong business.

“Part of developing resilience is making it through challenging things in life. And if you are always stepping in for your kid, they don’t get to do it.”

Even for those of us who are not so inclined to over-parent, Levine’s book offers useful reminders of just how important things like family time and unstructured outdoor play are, which can often be impinged upon by technology as much as too many extra curricular activities.

(Note to self: lock the iPad away.)

Margaret Harrington, a 46-year old mother of three teenage children aged 17, 15 and 11, says much of the practical advice in Levine’s book does make sense.

“I am a strong believer in teaching kids proper life skills,” says Harrington, from Carlow.

“This extends not just to my own kids, but anyone who visits here.”

Such skills include cooking and baking healthy food, doing laundry, ironing a school uniform, wiring a plug, basic food hygiene, working the central heating and fixing leaky taps. The list is endless, really.

“They will need to be resourceful when they grow up. Kid-glove parenting is the opposite of this.”

Being such a busy house means a big effort to sit down for dinner together in the evening is made.

“It makes an enormous difference to communication within the family. Everyone gets to share their day’s events, no matter how mundane.

“It means everyone’s talking, which, in this day and age, is not a given any more.”

Planned activities are minimal.

“The eldest plays saxophone and does karate. Our son plays GAA and rugby. The youngest girl does modern dance. That’s it.

“The kids get everything they need, but they are not molly-coddled in any way. I think that is a good thing.”

- John Cradden

Originally published in the Irish Independent

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Laser-eye surgery for older folk

Fergal Brehony, from Dublin, says getting Kamra is the best thing he's ever done

Caption: Fergal Brehony, from Dublin, says getting Kamra is the best thing he’s ever done

Laser surgery for age-related sight defects is proving popular, writes John Cradden

IF YOU have to hold this newspaper at arm’s length, or squint your eyes while reading this on a screen, it could be well worth your while reading on.

A revolutionary new type of laser eye surgery has been introduced into Ireland over the past year that promises a lifelong solution to presbyopia, an age-related condition that affects all of us to some extent as we reach our 40s or older.

Put simply, as the natural lens inside the eye ages, it becomes less flexible, or stiffer, resulting in problems with things like reading words or focusing on objects up close.

Laser eye surgery to fix presbyopia is nothing new, and many older people fed up of fumbling with multiple reading glasses or contact lenses have opted for one of the well-established procedures available to help with the condition.

But the downside with these procedures, which use lasers to reshape the corneas to improve vision, is that any correction for reading vision may have to be done again in later years as the eyes continue to age.

The difference with the new procedure, called Kamra, is that it promises to offer a more permanent and much simpler fix for the condition.

It involves placing a tiny disk with a pin hole in the middle over the cornea.

William Power, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Blackrock Clinic, says the principle behind the idea is an age-old one but is well understood by professional photographers.

“Say you’re taking a photograph of a couple in front of you but you want the mountains behind them in focus as well, what you do is you narrow down the aperture, and that increases the range of the depth of focus. That’s the simple principle, and the same applies to Kamra.”

The inlay is also only inserted in one eye — the non-dominant eye that is used for reading.

Fergal Brehony (52) from Rathfarnham in Dublin, says that undergoing the Kamra procedure was “the best thing he has ever done”.

“For the majority of my life I had perfect vision. Then, like everybody else, once I hit around 40, I needed glasses.”

When he heard about Kamra earlier this year while at Blackrock Clinic, he needed little convincing.

“Even in terms of glasses, I am done now. There’s been an incredible benefit. I haven’t picked up my glasses since the day I had surgery.”

There was no pain or discomfort and, less than 24 hours afterwards, he was able to drive himself down to west Cork.

As well as offering a permanent fix to presbyopia, Kamra is also less of a compromise compared to other surgery procedures, according to Dr Arthur Cummings, a consultant ophthalmologist at the Wellington Eye Clinic and UPMC Beacon Hospital.

Conventional laser surgery involves trying to achieve something called monovision, he says, which means “making the one eye better for distance and making the other eye better for near. What the brain does is, it marries that information and keeps everything in focus, far and near.”

However, some people with perfect distance vision, but who need help with near vision, may not be able to cope with monovision (which can be demonstrated in the clinic or through contact lenses).

They often find, for instance, that while their near vision improves, their distance vision is affected.

‘That’s when Kamra makes sense,” says Cummings. “So you place the Kamra inlay into the reading eye, it improves the reading eye, but without the same loss of vision you get from monovision.”

Blackrock Clinic, which started doing Kamra about six months ago, has done the procedure on over 20 patients so far, while the Wellington, which has offered it for a year now, has done nearer 40.

“It’s growing month-on-month significantly,” says Power, who reports that most of his patients are in their 50s.

At Blackrock, over half of the patients have opted for Kamra in conjunction with conventional laser surgery.

“For a certain percentage of people, their distance vision, at that age, is also beginning to fade a little bit too, and what we find is that with a bit of Lasik, we can improve their distance vision and, with that, their near vision with Kamra also works better.”

This is what Chris Smith (52) from Sandymount in Dublin opted for.

He was fed up with years of fumbling around with multiple sets of reading glasses, and his distance vision had also deteriorated.

He says the two procedures together made a huge difference. “I can say that it has transformed my life. When you have to wear glasses, it compromises quality of life.”

Although the Kamra has been used in select clinics in the EU for up to five years, the company that has patented it has stepped up its availability over the past year.

There have been no reported problems with Kamra, although Power understands that it has failed to work for about one in 100 patients to date. But he points out that the procedure is completely reversible with no permanent damage, something that is likely to help its popularity among those squeamish about the risks of conventional laser surgery.

“You’re just back to square one,” he says.

The cost of the procedure alone is about €2,000 depending on the clinic, but the cost is reduced to about €1,000 if you have it along with a conventional laser surgery procedure, such as Lasik.

It’s not covered by health insurers, but you can offset it as a medical expense against your income tax at 20pc.

Both Brehony and Smith say it’s money well spent. Smith says that, in the longer term, he is likely to save money because of the number of times he was having to get new, stronger glasses every year.

“Apart from that, the improvement in the quality of life is the main thing.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Smart Consumer: Keep fit on the cheap

Your exercise routine doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, writes John Cradden

There are few activities in life that are genuinely free, but keeping fit is about as close as you can get. Of course, there are those who have a vested interest in persuading you otherwise, such as sports equipment companies, energy drink makers, gym owners and fitness trainers.

Not to mention all the hundreds of celebs who have flogged exercise videos ever since Jane Fonda first urged us to “feel the burn” in 1982, sparking a multi-million dollar industry that is still in strong shape.

But getting exercise needn’t cost you a cent. If, however, you already have a well established fitness regime, there are plenty of ways to keep it up without burning the contents of your wallet.

No-contract gyms

We’ve all been there. After a couple of months of gym membership, your enthusiasm burns out and you’re back on the sofa. But you still have to fork out for the remaining term of your subscription.

Enter a new breed of no-frills, no-contract gyms that offer monthly subscriptions. Simplyfitness in Milltown, Dublin, requires only a small joining fee and just €29 a month to use its facilities.

According to Jackie Skelly at Flyefit in nearby Ranelagh, 98pc of its members pay the €29 monthly subscription, as opposed to the €259 annual one, which includes fitness classes. You can also get one-day passes for €9.

Indoor and gym-free exercises

If the new breed of budget gyms are still liable to pull your financial hamstring, why not create your own indoor gym. With a little ingenuity, you can re-use everyday household items such as weights, benches and suspension systems. After all, who needs dumbbells when you can use 1.5l water bottles or 2l cartons of milk?

Similarly, old bricks, old tyres or a basketball can double as fitness props and weigh towards your efforts in developing a six-pack stomach.

Only buy essential equipment

Online classifieds like Donedeal or Adverts.ie are a “graveyard of unused fitness equipment bought on a whim,” says Dublin-based personal trainer Dominic Munnelly.

He personally recommends buying only items like a good yoga mat for floor-based exercises, a kettlebell, a skipping rope, a chin-up bar, bands and a foam roll.

Hire a trainer

If you have forked out hundreds for a gym membership but haven’t witnessed your desired physical transformation, hiring a personal trainer could be money much better spent.

“I have worked with lots of clients that have done a few sessions with me and learned all the essential exercises and how to do them really well,” says Munnelly.

Afterwards, they then might use the workouts he posts up on his Facebook page or website to mix their training up a bit.

How much, though? “Fifty euro to €80 is typical, which is still great value, as many people buy the gym membership and never go,” he said.

Borrow fitness DVDs or visit YouTube

It’s a wonder that anyone goes and buys fitness DVDs when you can easily get one for free, either from a friend or the friendly local library.

Some workout videos are probably better and more up-to-date than others, but there are literally thousands of titles out there to choose from, and there are only so many variations on the same workout routine. You can also see many more examples for free on your laptop or iPad via YouTube.

Make your own energy drinks

Given the high prices of ready-made drinks, you might assume that they’re complicated to make. Far from it.

The core ingredients of sports drinks, which are designed to delay fatigue and enhance performance by preventing a fall in blood sugar and minimising the effects of dehydration, are sugar, salt and water.

The sugar prevents a decrease in performance caused by a drop in blood sugar; the fluid helps stave off dehydration; and the salt helps absorb and retain the fluid.

A typical home-made recipe is to scoop 60-80g of table sugar into a 1l bottle, add half a teaspoon of table salt along with a no-added sugar cordial and top up with water.

Do these while going about your business

If you’re pushed for time, you can integrate loads of exercises into your day-to-day routines.

For instance, scrubbing your floor for an hour will burn 400 calories, while an hour spent washing your windows will burn 250 calories. Thirty minutes spent vacuuming or scrubbing grease stains off dishes will burn about 100 calories.

Go running

There are no hard statistics for the rising number of recreational runners in Ireland, but you only have to look around now to see loads of red-faced folks bobbing along.

In addition, sports organisations report that all kinds of running events, ranging from short 5-10k runs to full marathons and even triathlons, are becoming over-subscribed. For instance, a record 14,000 competitors started the Dublin Marathon last October.

You’d be surprised at how much you could spend on a running kit, but this seems to miss the low-cost appeal of the sport. All you really need is a decent pair of shoes.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Q&A for possible cochlear implantees

A few months ago, a friend with a cochlear implant recently asked me to engage in some email correspondence with a chap with a roughly similar hearing background to me who was being assessed (and possibly still is, at the time of writing) by the Beaumont CI programme for a possible implant.

He had quite a few questions as it turned out, and the answers I wrote him helped to crystallise some of my own thoughts and conclusions to date about my own experience. I ‘ve reproduced them here, without the person’s name, as they probably help answer some questions other candidates may have or for those who are just curious.

Hello [name withheld]

Nice to hear from you. Delighted to offer any insight I can as you start your ‘journey’. It’s a word I don’t particularly like, but I can’t think of a better one that encapsulates all that you will experience if you go far enough down the road of actually getting a CI.

Thanks for the kind words re the blog. It’s very much stream-of-consciousness stuff and ramblings; I have had the notion of writing something resembling a book or a perhaps an ebook but, to date, I can’t think of an original enough angle beyond the boring memoir genre. But watch this space, as they say. It may not happen for another few months at least as I’m still getting to grips with all the ramifications of my own implant – its only been five months since my switch-on, after all. I would very highly recommend you read Michael Chorost’s memoir, Rebuilt, particularly if you’re at all interested in the technology behind it and the social impact of the technology. I’m no techie myself, but I found it profoundly insightful for a whole variety of reasons. He’s a very good writer, very readable and engaging.

But I shall do my best to answer your very good questions:

Does speech sound like a “Dalek with laryngitis” as a uk politician once said ? ;-)
I think this quote is from Jack Ashley, [recently passed away] who got an implant many years ago. It’s worth pointing out that his own implant was probably quite some way behind the current technology, particularly in terms of the number of auditory channels – he might only have eight or even four. Today’s implants have between 16 and 22, depending on which manufacturer you go for. The more channels you have, the better for sound quality. Eight channels sounds far, far rougher than 16 or 22. For me, speech sounded surprisingly normal right from the very beginning, but any of the weirdness that people often describe on being switched on was probably ‘masked’ a good deal by what I still heard in my hearing aid ear. It takes a while for the implanted ear to become the dominant ear, but it does eventually. The short answer is no, speech really sounds quite OK at the beginning and becomes even more normal. Voices in general, for me, sounded a bit more lower-pitched and more monotone. Chaps with deep male voices sounded like they had marbles in their mouths. But that’s the worst thing I can say at this stage. It’s the more complex sounds that are more difficult to process, particularly music (did you read the article of my interview with Richard Reed)?

Would you consider having the second ear done?
Yes, I think I would, although it if were offered to me now, I probably wouldn’t.  Since the implant, my right ear, which was my good ear, seems to have taken a step back and simply isn’t working as hard. I hear so much more in my implanted ear now, which has long since become the dominant ear. Of course, as you probably know, Beaumont doesn’t have the funds to do bilateral implants except in exceptional circumstances, but the more evidence that emerges of the benefits of going bi-lateral (which are growing in number), I think it’s only a matter of time before it becomes more common. In the meantime, the fear that my hearing aid ear would ‘shut down’ (some implantees with a HA ear report that it shuts down very quickly, a matter of months, rendering it practically dead) doesn’t look like it’s going to transpire just yet. When I listen to something on the headphones or speak to someone on the telephone, that is when it’s most useful (and being a journalist, this will be important for me in the short- to medium term). However, my right ear is likely to deteriorate more as the years progress, but it hope it holds up long enough so that by the time I’m considered for a second implant, the technology will have moved on a bit (ie optical cochlear implants seems to be the nearest thing to the next generation, but efforts to stimulate cochlea hair cell ‘regeneration’ seems unlikely to happen for a good twenty or thirty years from now).

How did they decide which ear to do. Were you tempted to get the dominant ear done first?
For some people this is quite an easy decision but for me, this was a very very difficult thing to decide, and even now I’m still not 100pc sure I made the right decision, but I think I did. In the beginning, I was adamant I would get my right ear done first. It had always been my better ear, the ear that gave me all the sharpness and allowed me to appreciate complex music and use the telephone comfortably. So I felt I had an emotional duty to make my right ear the implanted ear, as a reward for all its years of hard work. If that sounds totally stupid, it probably is, but gradually the logic of doing my left, weaker ear became more convincing the more I talked to others and read what other people had to say online about the subject. The main logic, of course, is that if something goes wrong, you still have your better ear. But more than a few people pointed out that doing your weaker ear makes sense on a pure rehabilitation level if you plan to go bilateral eventually – your weaker ear will, by extension, become your stronger one until such a time as you get your second implant. I added a logic of my own, hinted at in the previous question, which is that by the time I do get a second implant, the technology would be better and the auditory ‘memory’ from my right ear and auditory nerve would still be fresh enough to get the most out of it – possibly more than I’m getting out my current implant in my left ear. Basically, my heart said my right, my head said my left, and the head won out.

How long was your wait from your first screening meeting to having the operation?

Exactly a year – slightly shorter than I expected. Some have had to wait longer, others a little shorter, but not by much.

Did they get you to try digital hearing aids and if not why not?
I’ve actually worn digital hearing aids since 1997 and never looked back. I think they made a huge difference in my case – at the time – from analog ones. The second set of digital aids I got, in 2007, were the second most powerful in the range but, by the time of my right ear deterioration in 2009, it become underpowered very quickly. I only found this out when I did the hearing aid review at Beaumont as part of the assessment programme (which they do with practically everyone as I understand it), when the audiologist did a test and prescribed a more powerful Phonak hearing aid. I didn’t realise they made hearing aids more powerful than the ones I had at the time. It made a little difference, but not a whole lot. I still have that hearing aid in my right ear.

Are there many settings to tinker with on the processor and which one did you get?
I got the Cochlear Nucleus 5 processor and the current implant. I would have preferred the Advanced Bionics Harmony processor and implant but, unfortunately, it was the subject of a major recall and the Beaumont wouldn’t use them, so I didn’t have the choice. But I understand the recall has ended and Beaumont are using them once again. Interestingly, one of the many reasons I wanted it was because it was the type of processor that adjusts volumes and sensitivity automatically depending on what situation you are in. The Cochlear version doesn’t do that. However, there isn’t much to fiddle with on the Cochlear processor – just volume and sensitivity. The fiddling is really around the four programmes – everyday, noise, focus and music. I tend to stick with everyday, with noise for noisy settings.

Annoyingly enough, my implant was the subject of a major recall, which was announced ONE day before I got switched on. I can only hope and pray that mine was not part of a duff batch of implants that apparently more or less shut down after a year or two and have to be removed and replaced! So far, no-one in ireland has been affected [ed note: I've since learnt that three people to date have been affected]

You may not have the issue of lack of choice by the time you are scheduled for surgery – assuming you are – as the Cochlear recall will probably have ended by then.

If you want me to offer any more advice on which manufacturer you should go for, I’d be happy to. There are all kinds of considerations but, in a nutshell, if I had the choice again, I would still go for AB, even though the processor is bigger and uglier than the Nucleus 5, which is very discreet. The underlying technology seems to be that bit more advanced, and the implant electronics have more space to cater for processor upgrades, so it’s more future-proof, if that makes sense. For many people, it’s a serious consumer maze, but in a way, the whole AB vs Cochlear choice reminds me a little bit like the old Apple vs Microsoft war of the 1980s and 1990s. AB – on the face of it – is like Apple; smaller (although apple is now bigger than MS – go figure), more innovative, more pioneering, and inspires an almost cult following among many techies. Microsoft is Cochlear; still the giant among CI makers, but the technology isn’t as impressive, and the company is more businessy, corporate.

I must emphasise that this is just my view and reflects my own outlooks and attitudes. Take my views on board by all means, but do do your own research and come to your own conclusions – assuming you have the choice when the time comes.

Anyway, I’ll stop now before I bore or bewilder you. But as a final word on the topic, I’m delighted with my Cochlear Nucleus 5. It works in the all the ways that it should and I’ve had no problems to date, touch wood.

Finally – are you happy with it ?

Absolutely. I’m still getting to grips with it and there is more to come, but everything is working well and as it should, which is the biggest relief. As you can probably appreciate by now, it takes time to for it to make the difference and time to habituate yourself to it. Some notice the difference straight away while others take longer – everyone is different. The adjustment phase, for me, is taking longer I think than I expected but only because it’s in my left ear, which was never my good ear. The brain is having to rewire itself to tune more into my left ear than my previously dominant right ear, so that is adding an extra element of adjustment. But what amazes me, even after 6 months, is that the change is still happening – you apparently should reach your ‘peak’ after a year or so, on average – and it has been steady rather than dramatic. But the difference compared to six months ago is dramatic. I’m (just starting) to use the phone again, able to sometimes follow the TV without subtitles, converse with people face to face and in groups far far more easily, hear the radio (still a work-in-progress) etc etc. Not to mention hearing things I’ve never heard before.

I think one of the best things is that I have two young children – 18 months and 5 – and being able to hear them far better than I did before is just the most wonderful gift and at exactly the right time, particularly since they’re both chatterboxes!

In a nutshell, there’s no way to say if you will be happy with it, as the range of outcomes is quite varied, but they do say that those who have normal hearing for at least a few years get the very most out of it. So you, if anything, are far closer to being the ideal candidate than me, and certainly [name withheld].

I’ve yet to meet one implantee who regrets it – although I don’t get out much. The beaumont team are fantastic. You’ll be in very good hands, if it all goes ahead.

Best of luck

John

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