Exeter Deaf Academy is hosting a free family sign language weekend on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 April.

Imagine feeling the enormous sense of isolation when you can’t find a way to communicate with anyone, not even your own family. Imagine feeling cut off because you can’t understand what they say or make yourself heard. Sadly, for many Deaf children this is an everyday reality.

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

Enabling a Deaf child to develop good language skills is incredibly challenging. How do you begin to teach a child English who cannot hear? Words are just marks on a page, how can you give the words meaning if they are never heard?

Our free sign language weekends have been running for two years and are incredibly popular. They aim to support parents who may be struggling with communicating with a Deaf child and help to break down barriers often experienced by families with Deaf children.

Exeter Deaf Academy 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.

Jayne 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 sign language weekend also aims to help develop positive, nurturing family relationships. Our sessions are open to the whole family, enabling grandparents, parents, and siblings to learn together, no matter how young or old. Everyone has a chance to be involved. The sessions are suitable for friends, families, or professionals who occasionally work with deaf children and want to learn more”.

The Academy’s Deaf Instructor, Nikki James is a family sign language tutor. Nikki added, ‘Our family sign language course is based on the Family Sign Language Curriculum developed by the National Deaf Children’s Society. It’s 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 as how to communicate about practical issues, such as food, sleeping and nappy changing”.

One parent who previously attended the family sign language weekend said, “I 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”

One mum added, “My husband was a bit petrified as he was nervous signing in a group. It turned out fine as 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.”

Our family sign language weekend is on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 April. Free parking, a crèche and lunch is provided. Accommodation is also provided free of charge to families travelling from outside of the area. Booking is essential. Visit exeterdeafacademy.ac.uk/family-sign-language or contact Jayne Dingle on 01392 267077 or jdingle@exeterdeafacademy.ac.uk.