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Sign and bond

Yvonne Cobb, from Gloucestershire, UK, talks about her experiences as a deaf mother of hearing children, discussing how they inspired her to set up her own business teaching baby sign language. Website: www.signbond.co.uk.

I’ve been profoundly deaf since birth and I use spoken English and British Sign Language. I’m married to Reg, who is also deaf, and together we have three hearing children – a seven-year-old daughter and three-year-old boy and girl twins.

Mother tongue

When my eldest daughter was born in 2000, I naturally used British Sign Language with her as it is our home language. When she was nine months old, she signed the word ‘cat’ and, not long afterwards, the word ‘phone’. It was amazing to all of us that she could communicate with us before she had the ability to talk and even before she could walk!

Suddenly, she could tell us if she wanted milk or if something hurt, rather than just cry. By the time she was two years old, she had a vocabulary of over 200 signed words and knew several nursery rhymes by heart. Our friends were amazed and they followed suit, using sign language with their babies.

My three hearing children all use British Sign Language as their everyday language. It is their mother tongue and they often communicate with each other in sign language while also using spoken language. They are completely bilingual and can talk and sign simultaneously.

They really understand about their parents being deaf and from a very young age would tap us or turn our face around to get our attention. Sometimes, they get carried away with speaking and I have to remind them to sign.

A strong bond

My children are very adaptable and can speak or sign with different people as needed. For me this is a dream come true, because many of the deaf parents with hearing children that I know do not have a very strong bond because of the difficulties in communicating with and understanding each other.

I have seen the immense benefits of baby signing with my children and many of my friends’ children. Research shows that signing increases their self-esteem and confidence, reduces their frustration when they can’t form the words they need, and strengthens the bond with their parents and family. Many parents and professionals think it only applies to deaf babies but that’s not true.

My experience as a deaf parent is a positive one. I learned from my first labour that the midwives didn’t understand my deaf needs, so I was more prepared the second time around. I gave deaf awareness training to 30 midwives. My labour this time was wonderful, despite having twins!

Of course, you have to adapt; for example, I used a pager system as a baby monitor. When the baby cried a signal was sent to the pager and it vibrated to wake me up.

Toddler groups were difficult for me as I found it tiring to lip-read constantly, but I always made sure I interacted with people, and I found that other mums didn’t just see me as a deaf mother but as Yvonne. If you’re a deaf parent you just need to push a little harder to get what you want. And of course it helps to have a sense of humour!

Baby signing resources

It was while my eldest daughter was a baby that I heard about the phenomenal interest in the USA about baby signing. In 2003, when I was pregnant with my twins, I started investigating it further. Baby signing was being used there, not just by deaf parents but also by hearing parents. There was an understanding of the many benefits of signing with babies, regardless of whether or not there was a deaf person in the family.

The experience of using sign language within my family and its impact on family communication led me to want to share these benefits with other families. Soon after the twins’ birth in 2004, I launched my own company called Sign and Bond, to share and develop these exciting opportunities with others, and I haven’t looked back since.

Sign and Bond is a young and vibrant company specialising in communication among babies, children and adults. We provide fun workshops for deaf and hearing babies and children, and for parents and professionals. The response has been amazing. We are now developing courses to teach BSL to adults.

Recognition

In 2005, I won Best Business Personality of the Year Award with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, in conjunction with The Learning Partnership. The judging panel concluded: “Yvonne is inspirational in more ways than one and her determination to succeed and dedication to promoting sign language, as a language in its own right, is truly commendable”.

I was also the runner up for the Young Business Person Award.

In 2006, we launched our first baby signing DVD, Come and sign at the farm, which has been a hit. I now have a team of trainers covering the UK, and together we have taught over 500 babies in the community including several play-centres and nurseries.

I think that if you want to succeed in life and enjoy what you do, you need to have a positive belief in yourself, always go with your gut feelings when making decisions, work hard, be prepared to step out of your comfort zone if you feel nervous or anxious, always carry a good notebook to jot down ideas, and be proud of your ability, rather than focus on your disability. It works for me!

First published DPPI Journal, Issue 59: Autumn 2007

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