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How do I... access sign language lessons?

Photo: Parents tell us how they learnt sign language

There are many different ways to learn sign language and it’s important to explore the options in your local area to find one that suits your family. We asked parents to share with us how they learnt.

We learnt baby sign then went on to British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1...

Isaac

Esme is mum to Isaac (3) who is profoundly deaf. He wore hearing aids when he was first diagnosed and now has cochlear implants.

We started to learn as soon as Isaac was diagnosed so that we could help him with his speech and communication and so he would be able to communicate with other deaf children.

He was born with moderate to severe hearing loss but at two years old it became profound, and our only way of communicating with him was through sign.

We started by attending local ‘Tiny Talk’ baby signing classes. There was a waiting list but we were given lessons straightaway as we had a deaf child. Isaac’s Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) arranged for someone from our local Sensory Support team to teach us family sign at home and my husband and I went on to complete our British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1, organised again by the ToD and funded through our local authority.

Learning sign really helped Isaac’s speech – every sign he used he also tried to say the word. Being able to communicate with us from a young age also meant he was less frustrated.

After having his cochlear implant operation, knowing sign was immensely helpful – Isaac relied on signing and lip-reading for about four months while he was learning to hear with his new implants.

 

We learned BSL at our local college...

Nicole

Lesley is mum to Nicole (18) who is profoundly deaf. She wore hearing aids until the age of nine when she had cochlear implants.

My husband and I wanted to learn sign so that we could communicate with our daughter as when she was diagnosed at 18 months, she had no spoken language.

Nicole’s first sign was ‘bath’ – just a couple of months after we started signing to her. We learned BSL Level 1 for free at our local college. We’d learn new signs each week and then teach them to Nicole at home.

We shared basic signs with other family members too so they could also communicate with her, and ask her if she wanted juice or a biscuit.

As Nicole got older, she started to naturally drop the signs and use speech, which became her main method of communication. She still uses sign when she takes her implant processors off.

It’s so useful in noisy environments and she doesn’t wear her implants when she goes swimming.

Nicole (18): If my mum is leaving early in the morning, she wakes me up to tell me where she’s going using sign – I don’t need to put my implants in to understand.

When I’m feeling sleepy and my implants are out I don’t need to struggle to lip-read my mum – she just signs instead.

We did baby signing and learnt from YouTube…

Alex

Jen is mum to Alex (9 months) who has a moderate hearing loss and wears hearing aids.

We wanted to learn sign language as a family so that Alex wouldn’t feel left out during day-to-day activities and family life.

I was looking for local baby classes and found a company called ‘Tots Play’ which included baby signing, baby yoga, baby massage, sensory play and music all in one class. The teacher is very helpful and knowledgeable and it isn’t as overwhelming for us as a formal BSL course – it’s really fun! We pay for it ourselves and it’s been a fantastic way to meet other mums with babies the same age as Alex.

We also watch a lot of YouTube videos together as a family, searching for terms like ‘baby sign language’ and ‘BSL’. There are so many videos for all ages and abilities and it’s easy for us to watch and practise together. Joe (4), Alex’s brother, is a very quick learner and loves to watch them and test us!

When we sign ‘food’ and ‘milk’ to Alex he gets very excited and he smiles lots when we sign ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’ and ‘brother’! Baby signing has been fantastic in helping us let Alex know what’s going on around him and who the main people in his life are.

We learnt through our Local Deaf Children's Society...

Aurora

Arlene is aunt to Aurora (4) who is severely deaf and wears hearing aids.


I got a place on a BSL Level 1 course through our local deaf children’s society that Aurora and her parents are part of. The group fundraised and also secured a grant from the Big Lottery Fund to run the sign language classes for those caring for deaf children.

There are 14 members who are learning, made up of both family members and professionals who work with deaf children – even Aurora’s swimming teacher is learning with us!

I also go with Aurora’s other aunt and two cousins. We meet up at Aurora’s granny’s house a few times a week too and practise what we’ve learnt. The kids are picking it up quickly and Aurora loves to see her whole family signing – her face lights up! It’s brilliant to communicate with her in a way she understands as I know this stops her feeling isolated or getting frustrated.

Aurora’s mum and dad have also learned sign through National Deaf Children’s Society classes. Learning sign has helped ensure Aurora is a happy, confident little girl as her family can communicate with her fully, whether she’s wearing her hearing aids or not.