The adults we spoke to who were born with a cleft lip and/or palate had a variety of experiences when interacting with others. They talked about differences in the level of comfort that other people showed when meeting or mixing with somebody who either looked different or sounded different, or who had hearing difficulties.
Such experiences were generally more positive in adulthood than those in childhood or during their teenage years. A common view expressed by the adults was that their self-confidence increased the older they got. Improvements in self-confidence were associated with support and guidance from family and friends and also support from speech and language therapists, psychologists and counsellors. Confidence in social situations also seemed to have a positive impact on aspirations and life plans.
The support that these people received from others had helped them to develop strategies for dealing with and counteracting unwanted comments or negative reactions from others, either in social situations or at work. They believed that negative comments about cleft and its associated symptoms were usually based on ignorance and fear rather than intentional cruelty.
The adults we spoke to were open about answering questions about their cleft and were happy to addressing comments from members of the public as this can help raise awareness of the condition. (See ‘Self-image and appearance‘ and ‘Social interaction and public awareness‘).
Since leaving school Gemma has become more confident about her appearance. She is open to people asking her about her cleft as she believes that it helps to raise awareness of the condition.
After leaving school Iona went to work in a restaurant before going to University. The experience of working with other people and public helped to boost her confidence.
Younger adults spoke about how their confidence and their relationships with others improved after leaving school. They believed that further and higher education environments offered more accepting communities in which diversity was valued.
Hannah experienced a big change in the attitude of others from leaving school to going to a college of further education. This change in attitude helped her gain greater self-confidence.
When Jon left school and his family home to go to university he found the excitement of his new life overshadowed having a visible and speech difference?
Lizzie adapted well to the transition from school to university and has an open attitude to others who ask about her cleft.
People born with a cleft may have hearing difficulties. This can affect the sound of the voice and therefore affect social interactions. Those with hearing problems may wear hearing aids and lip read to improve their communication with other people.
Suzi recalls how her daughter Kendal was fitted with hearing aids as a child. Kendal continues to wear hearing aids as an adult.
Some of the adults we spoke to had to make more conscious of having a visible difference and can have an impact on romantic relationships.