Review: CBBC’s My Life – Signing Off

Posted on March 13, 2014

Ben is an impressive young lad. He’s the articulate and savvy son and brother in an almost entirely deaf family.

He loves music, he’s also into drama but he didn’t learn to speak until he was four because his family communicated with him in sign language. The delay in learning to talk didn’t hold him or his confidence back. He’s a great, chatty host.

Ben takes the intended audience (kids) on a whistle stop tour of his family, how the ear works (he can’t be blamed for the info-graphic putting deafness down to not having hairy ears) and a bit of sign language. We get to see one of the big advantages for hearing boys in having deaf parents as Ben turns up the music volume in his bedroom and dances away while his deaf parents continue their day unaware of the thudding from above.

The freedom to choose the volume he wants is clearly an awesome upside for Ben but the side effect, as his (hearing and non-signing) best mate tells us, is that he’s the noisiest person he knows. At home though – that doesn’t matter much. Party on!

After Ben describes how he admirably fended off the inevitable bullying from playground ignoramuses, the question at the heart of Signing Off is revealed. Ben has another best friend too but this one is deaf and he uses sign language. Can Ben bring his two audiologically opposite best mates together? They’ve never even met. The boy feels torn between the two worlds, that of the deaf and the of hearing, but by the end of the show, will everyone get along across the communication divide?

We follow Ben through two big challenges which again, like his mates, are rooted in different worlds. Ben auditions to get into a top drama school and then attempts to pass an advanced sign language exam. Completing both challenges would support young Ben’s aim to be a musician that signs and well as sings. Basically, the world as he experiences it manifested in his choice of career.

Ben invites his deaf and hearing friends and his family to the living room (set-up like a cinema) to watch a film of his life and understand more about how he feels.  The aim is for Ben to unite the people closest to him so he can lead less of a double-life and feel at ease with his unique position.

It’s not clear if he managed that but seated between his two best friends from the two different worlds, Ben relays their first conversation. He switches between sign language and speech as they talk about their favourite football teams. As he interprets, perhaps the reason why his two closest friends have never met before becomes apparent. Interpreting all the time isn’t that much fun.

That doesn’t seem to bother Ben really though. Having his two best friends over to play at the same time is what he always wanted. Now he’s done it, he doesn’t know why he didn’t do it sooner.

On that note, I wish that this programme had been made sooner. I’m the son of deaf parents too but in the late 80’s we didn’t have this kind of cool, well-made show on children’s TV to explain what deaf families were like. All my friends knew was that our lights flashed and noise wasn’t an issue. Ben’s friends will be far better informed.

Watch it here.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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Posted in: Andy Palmer, Reviews