Katie Martin and Jane Thomas are busy speech and language therapists working with deaf children in Greenwich. With a full caseload of around 80 clients, most of whom they see every week – you’d think they wouldn’t have time for anything else.
In fact, they have created and run a unique speech and language therapy project – all in their own time – called Life & Deaf in which deaf children explore their identity through poetry in written English and British Sign Language (BSL).
Life & Deaf began in 2006 as a project which aimed to develop deaf children’s self esteem and communication in signed, spoken and written languages. The result was a beautiful book of 16 poems and accompanying DVD of the children performing their poems in sign language. This was then taken further by the development of the Life & Deaf website: www.lifeanddeaf.co.uk and a workbook, which can be found on the website, for other teachers and therapists containing techniques used in Life & Deaf. Children were also encouraged to upload poems to the site.
Katie and Jane work for Greenwich Community Health Services (GCHS) and spend most of their time in local schools. An important part of their role is to develop what they call “emotional literacy”. According to Jane: “Most deaf children know how to express happy, sad, or angry, but this does not cover the shades of what they may be feeling. We try to broaden their emotional vocabulary so they can express specific emotions and clearly communicate to others what they are feeling.”
Katie agrees: “We have found that communication in the home can be difficult for children as parents may find it hard to learn sign language. This can lead to children feeling isolated and affect their social confidence. It may surprise people to hear that 40% of deaf children and adults suffer from depression and anxiety disorders as a result of low self esteem and poor communication skills.”
In 2010, with funding from Greenwich Council’s Sensory Service and in collaboration with Helena Ballard, a teacher of the deaf, the pair launched Life & Deaf 2. Deaf young poets were invited to workshops where they could explore their identity as deaf people and learn from professionals how to perform their poems confidently using voice, art and sign language. Children from schools in Greenwich, Lewisham, Bexley and Bromley were invited to the first workshop in May 2011; the second, to be held in July 2011, will bring together children from across the country.
One of the young people involved in the workshops is Sarah Ivy-Jayne, a remarkable 17 year old who took part in the original Life & Deaf. Now at Shooters Hill Post 16 Campus, Sarah is studying for her A – Levels. She has a communication support worker (CSW) who helps during lessons by signing or clarifying what the teacher is saying. Sarah, whose speech is very clear, believes that communication is vital for deaf people’s wellbeing: “Talking to people helps maintain good mental health. But most deaf people are too nervous to talk to a hearing person in case they can’t understand them. I’m always writing something. Poems about what I’m thinking or what I want to do. Sometimes I feel I’ve just got to write.”
For more information about Life & Deaf, visit the website or contact Jane and Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jane and Katie on 020 8858 3678.
There is a longer version of this article on the trust website: www.oxleas.nhs.uk