Tamsin Coates: Proud to sign

Posted on August 29, 2012



We’ve just had our annual family holiday. Amidst the sun (yes in Britain!), sand and chaos that seems standard in taking three children to a new location, I found myself struck anew with appreciation for one of the every-day parts of our lives. It’s often the case that when you are removed from the minutiae of daily activities that form your day at home, there can be the opportunity to see what is in front of you all the time. So it was for me.

My thoughts stuck me in the swimming pool showers of all places……….but no matter the less than exotic location, it hit me again as it has before….I love the fact that we are a signing family. In those showers I stood with my younger son both of us signing about the fact that he had swum off, only come up behind me to surprise me and his humour at the look on my face when he had tapped my shoulder from behind. A common enough conversation, but as we stood discussing it, signing and using our faces to give expression to my surprised face we were in our own bubble. A special moment, amidst the noisy area with twenty or so other people using the showers we were able to share our thoughts together.

Now, don’t get me wrong I am guilty of also loving my children’s use and understanding of sign language for other reasons too. The ability to sign ‘stop now’ or ‘come back’ was invaluable when they were younger and involved in activities and adventures at the park or ball pool. Simple instructions with a very recognisable facial expression meant my children knew when I wanted them to stop or calm down. Not that they always chose to follow the instructions!!

As they have grown older I have found myself in the sea of faces that occur in school assemblies. There to watch my sons perform their part in the assembly. For my younger son he found putting himself out there to perform in front of others a challenge. He worried that people were laughing at him or pointing him out as different, an element of his self-esteem and feedback on his confidence in his own identity. From my seat I have been able to sign re-assurance and praise, connecting me with him across a busy noisy room. Now as he has grown more self-assured and his roles in assemblies have grown to include; street dancing and singing, all he needs is an emphatically signed ‘fantastic’.

In growing independence my boys have been sat on coaches, ready to head off with their friends on school trips or to cub camp and I have been able to soothe last minute fears through the window and slip in a last sign of ‘mummy affection’ that I’m not allowed to say out loud for fear their friends might hear. My friend’s son is more than happy for his mum to sign ‘I love you ‘ to him in these situations as it’s hand shape looks suitably ‘rock and roll’ enough that everyone thinks his mum is really cool.

These uses of sign aren’t the primary reason my sons, and our family learnt to use sign language and do include examples of times when other children and parents struggle to communicate with each other, deaf or not. However, having left the showers I couldn’t help but mull over all those moments I have shared with my children over the years which sign has helped us to connect through. Reminding me what a special skill we all have. Signing was firstly there to aid their learning of vocabulary, language and communication with the world around them. Since then it has been there even as they learned to listen, at times when their equipment can’t be worn or at times when they just don’t want to wear it such as in hospital. Signing is there now as part of the boy’s deaf identity and I am so glad.

As for the rest of the family who were waiting for Campbell and I to finish our swim…..my hearing three year old (stood behind the glass wall, waiting with her daddy and other older brother) signed their thoughts; ‘fantastic’ at our swimming efforts followed by ‘quick’ ‘shower’……….Ok, ok message received and understood!

Tamsin Coates trained and worked as a Speech and Language Therapist for over 10 years. Her training came in useful when she had two sons who are profoundly deaf. She now juggles being a mum to three lively children, writing, running the Wirral Deaf Children’s Society (with her friend Lisa) and raising awareness regarding deaf issues wherever she can.

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, training and consultancy Deafworks, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Look, Smile Chat campaign, and the National Theatre’s captioned plays.

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