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Communicating with
Sign Language
by Lynne Tilley

My daughter Jayleigh was born 6 weeks premature and at the age of 7 months was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. She was referred to Addenbrookes Hospital and when she was 18 months old they told me I had 5 weeks to teach her 6 signs to demonstrate she had the ability to learn language before deciding to invest in a £50,000 operation.  Jayleigh has no auditory nerve on the left side and only 20% on the right side. I had no idea about signing and we lived in a non-signing area of the country where they believed the way forward was to speak. Luckily, a lady at Jayleigh's nursery could sign and she taught me some animal signs, I then taught Jayleigh by showing her pictures and repeating the signs.


Jayleigh had her first cochlear implant operation on her 3rd birthday but the magnet was sited incorrectly and it kept falling off. On her fourth birthday she underwent a further operation to re-position it, but unfortunately the procedure did not work.  I just wanted to do the best I could for my daughter so I bought books on signing and proceeded to learn sign language with her. We even have our own language between us as we didn't know how to sign certain things.

Jayleigh attended Heathlands School for the Deaf in St. Albans for a few years but I was told the school wasn’t challenging enough for her, as her only disability was being deaf and she was able to learn quickly. We moved to Kent and went to see the school for the deaf there but she couldn't be enrolled because the Council were pushing to close it down. She spent 6 months out of school when we moved to Gloucestershire, where they used some sign, and Herefordshire, where they didn't sign at all.

We eventually came to Dorset when Jayleigh was 9 years old and we were met with so much support that we haven't looked back. When she was 10 years old she told the consultant at Southampton Hospital that she wanted the cochlear implant removed because it didn’t work and she wanted new hearing aids. You try explaining that to a child who only signs! He told her she would have to wait until she was 16 and if she still wanted it removed she would be old enough to consent.

Jayleigh attended Dorchester Middle School with full-time Communication Support Workers and support from a teacher of the deaf. The school welcomed her with open arms. While there she started to study for her BSL qualifications and passed her Level 1 exam with flying colours.


At the age of thirteen Jayleigh went to The Dorset Studio School which had just opened at Kingston Maurward College, she thoroughly enjoys it there and loves school. She is fully supported and keeps everyone on their toes with all the things she wants to do. She completed her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award last term and even planned the expedition on her own, including map reading, nothing stops her!

Jayleigh does get very frustrated when she cannot make you understand but we get round it somehow.  She has suffered some bullying which has been nipped in the bud immediately. Teenagers can be quite spiteful at times.  She finds the hardest part is feeling ignored because other students cannot always be bothered to talk/sign to her.


Jayleigh has recently announced she would like to attend Hamilton Lodge Deaf College in Brighton. She wants other teenagers her own age to sign to and she’ll make friends for life hopefully. She is a very determined youngster who lives life to the full and tries whatever crosses her path.


Jayleigh is very independent and knows what she wants out of life and I believe she will get it.  Nothing stands in her way, she is fluent in sign language and has no speech what-so-ever but she has the ability to make people understand even if they don't sign and will chat away if they do!


Signing is becoming more and more accepted now; parents are even encouraged to sign to babies to lessen the frustration of communication. 

We are lucky enough in this area to have a whole network of support for our deaf children, to give them a chance at a happy and fulfilling life and long may it continue!

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