Meath School SSE

Changing Signs at Meath School

Kayleigh Turner is a Senior Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) at I CAN’s Meath School in Surrey.  Here she presents a two year review of the introduction and use of Sign Supported English (SSE) at Meath School.

In September 2015 the staff, children, parents, carers, friends and families jointly began an exciting journey to launch Sign Supported English (SSE) at I CAN’s Meath School. The aim was to better support the children both in their speech and language development, as well as their social development and inclusion in the wider community. Two years on, we are incredibly proud of everyone’s hard work and achievement, enabling the switch from Paget Gorman Signing to SSE to be a huge success.

Staff, children, parents and siblings have all had opportunities to attend regular lessons with all sorts of practical activities to keep them on their toes, ‘silent signing karaoke’ and ‘signing charades’ to name just a couple. This has led to a brilliant 45 staff members taking (and passing) Foundation Level Exams, who are now working towards Enhancement Level Awards.

The children often outshine the adults, with now over 40 children receiving their first signing award and some having achieved their second. The children are enthused and always keen to show visitors and new staff how it is done. The Pat Robinson Award for Signing was donated in December 2016 and is awarded to one child each term for their personal outstanding effort and achievement in signing.

SSE filtered quickly from the structured signing lessons into the classrooms, the playground, the dining room and every other aspect of school life in order to support the children. The whole school productions are now oozing with signs, just one of the many examples is the recent summer concert where children and adults could be seen and heard singing and signing ‘what a wonderful world’ to a hall brimming with proud friends and family.

Parents have also been working hard, attending evening workshops and weekly practise sessions. Many have reported an increase in signing at home, the children are coming home signing more and more and now they need to keep up too. Just a few ways parents feel the children are using the signs to help are: to support word retrieval when the child cannot remember the word they want to say, using signing alongside speech if they cannot get their message understood, and retelling events about their day or what they have learned using new vocabulary with signs.

Non-verbal children, unable to communicate through speech, are now communicating many more opinions, wants and needs through a total communication approach at Meath School using SSE as a core method of AAC – Alternative and Augmentative Communication (and enthusiastically correcting signs made by the adults). One particular child has developed from signing single words, to signing complete sentences since the launch of SSE, increasing her independence and developing her language and social skills immensely.     

All of the children at I CAN’s Meath School have severe and/or complex speech and language disorders and the majority rely on signing to support their understanding of language; giving them a visual aid in which to hang new vocabulary and understand longer sentences. Sometimes we ask ourselves whether the children do find it helpful (while we are madly waving our hands about), then the children soon remind us just how important it is to them by telling us off when we forget to sign for just a brief moment! The new breadth of signs has been an exciting move forwards to allow our children to begin understanding and learning about vocabulary that was previously outside of their reach.