A free British Sign Language (BSL) outreach session was recently held in Dorset by our Family Support Project.

We are the only specialist day and residential Deaf education provider in the South West. As a charity we run a school and college in a bilingual English and British Sign Language (BSL) environment for Deaf young people aged 4-24. Our English and BSL bilingual community gives Deaf young people a sense of belonging as they learn and develop their own language skills and journey towards independence and fulfilling their own potential.

90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents. The parents and family of a Deaf child may start to learn sign language, but it can take years and the standard British Sign Language (BSL) courses are not based on simple everyday family life.

For many Deaf children, returning home in the school holidays is a challenging time. Isolation is one of the major causes of mental health issues for Deaf young people, as there are so many barriers to them being able to communicate with those around them.

Having family, friends and neighbours who know a little bit of BSL and who are prepared to make an effort to communicate with BSL makes a huge difference to a Deaf child’s mental well-being and enables them to feel involved and part of the community.

Our Family Support Tutor, Nikki James, recently visited Dorset to provide a special outreach session for the family, friends and neighbours of a Deaf child who lives in a remote area of the county. The aim of the session is to help families who may be struggling with communicating with a Deaf child and help break down communication barriers often experienced by parents and their Deaf children.

Our Family Support Worker, Jayne Dingle is an award-winning BACP accredited counsellor who has several years’ experience of working with Deaf children and young people. She said,

“For any child, communication with others, such as mum and dad, brothers and sisters and friends is the door to understanding the world around them and it’s the foundation for thinking and learning. Our Family Support Project aims to help develop positive, nurturing family relationships. Sessions are open to the whole family, enabling everyone to learn together, no matter how young or old. Everyone has a chance to be involved.”

Exeter Deaf Academy Deaf Instructor, Nikki James added, “Our family BSL session in Dorset was well received. The signs I teach are specifically for families of Deaf children and the types of communication for young children at home. This includes nursery rhymes, telling stories and playing make-believe games, as well how to communicate about practical issues, such as food, sleeping and nappy changing”.

A family member at the session said, “I most enjoyed gaining insight into the experiences that a deaf child can have. Being able to feel an understanding of the challenges, isolation and frustrations makes me want to learn so much more. I would love to be able to help everyone feel included in any conversation”.

They continued, “Nikki the tutor is lovely and made it a comfortable and fun environment to sign in. Everyone should learn a little bit of BSL and this is a relaxed environment in which to do so. Thanks to Exeter Deaf Academy again, it was a terrific session – fascinating and fun!”

We are a registered charity and are not funded in the same way as state schools. We rely on fundraising to support projects such as the Family Support Project in Dorset that otherwise would not happen. To find more visit: exeterdeafacademy.ac.uk/fundraising