Effie can be herself thanks to First Signs

Issue: Volume 94, Number 22

Posted: 7 December 2015
Reference #: 1H9cyP

First SignsEffie was working with her First Signs tutor, Natasha Cloete, when she decided to tell her about how her hair got wet at kindergarten.

Colin Hopkins, Effie’s father, says the sentence was the highlight of taking part in the First Signs programme, which teaches New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) to deaf or hard of hearing young children and their families.

The Hopkins first met First Signs tutor Natasha Cloete in December 2014. Natasha says seeing Effie’s sentence gave her goose bumps and made her incredibly proud of the young girl who she had been working with twice a week for seven months.

Natasha would visit Effie at kindergarten once a week and shadow her to ensure she could communicate with those around her.

During the second meeting of the week, Natasha would work with the whole Hopkins family, including Effie’s siblings.

Colin says he and his wife Rachael wanted to get involved in the programme because they were looking for a way of learning NZSL. Having Natasha in their lives meant they were soon connected to the wider Deaf community; Rachael is even on the Auckland Parents of Deaf Children committee.

“We’re huge fans of the programme,” he says. “We were so lucky to get the chance to be involved in it."

“Natasha became our link to the Deaf community. She also provided Effie with a really positive deaf role model.”

Being deaf herself, Natasha says she knows how difficult it can be for deaf children and their families.

“If a parent has a deaf child, they don’t know how to communicate with them,” she says. “I had hearing parents myself and when I was small there was a lot I didn’t know.”

First Signs is a wonderful service that enables young children to communicate with the world around them, Natasha says.

Colin says Natasha taught the family practical day-to-day signs that have made a big difference, including important little things like how to ask Effie if she wants Marmite or jam on her toast.

“The language we need is stuff she wants to talk about,” he says.

Two years ago Effie had a cochlear implant, which she can turn off or on whenever she likes. Colin says First Signs has given Effie the confidence to turn it off and use NZSL when she wants to.

“This has given her a huge amount of freedom to decide how she would like to communicate.”

Natasha says Effie learning NZSL means she will have more options for how she communicates.

“I will never forget a few weeks after I started, Effie was shouting ‘Natasha, Natasha.’ Her parents told her I was deaf so I couldn’t hear what she was saying. The next time I came over she turned her cochlear implant on and the time after that she turned it off. This was a stage of her experimenting with how she wanted to communicate.”

Colin says First Signs has helped Effie on her transition to school and she is now taking part in the New Zealand Sign Language at School programme.

“We’ve worked really hard so signing is in her life all the time,” he says. “Now Effie is at school and signing is normal for her.”

Asked if he would recommend the First Signs programme to families in similar situations, Colin says he would without a doubt.

“We’re huge advocates of the programme,” he says. “It can really benefit families. It really is great.”

Natasha says Effie was wonderful to work with and she will miss their twice-weekly catch-ups.

“She’s no longer limited by her spoken vocabulary. I have handed her over to New Zealand Sign Language at School and done my part."

“There is huge potential for Effie in the future. She will live a very normal life and go very far – she’s amazing."

“First Signs has ensured she has full access.”

Colin says even though hearing families are primarily verbal, incorporating NZSL can be a huge help with communicating.

“Signing has helped Effie with her reading and vocabulary, which is a big bonus given her oral skills were a bit behind."

What is First Signs?

First Signs provides families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children with the opportunity to include NZSL as an additional language in their home.

Funded by the Ministry of Education and delivered by Deaf Aotearoa, the programme connects families to a language that is accessible to all children.

The First Signs service has a number of components and families can choose the aspects that meet their needs throughout their time with the service.

The service is currently available throughout New Zealand for families and whānau with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child aged 0–5 years. Contact your Adviser on Deaf Children to find out about being referred to the service.

For more information about First Signs, contact your local Deaf Aotearoa office or go to the following site; www.deaf.org.nz/services/first-signs(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 4:07 PM, 7 December 2015

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