Mum of deaf son has to take out loans to pay to learn sign language

A mum is backing calls for parents of deaf children to be given free British Sign Language (BSL) classes, after having to raise over £5,000 for lessons.

ITV News reporter Katharine Walker has been exploring the challenges faced by parents of deaf children

A mum is backing calls for the parents of deaf children to be given free access to British Sign Language (BSL) classes.

So far, Sophie Lavers has raised more than £5,000 for lessons to learn to communicate with her four-year-old son Leighton, who is deaf.

As she’s over 25, she’s not entitled to any help from the council, and has had to turn to loans or charities for funding.

She told ITV News: “I started to learn to sign when Leighton was two months old. I’ve had to borrow from friends and take out loans to pay for classes.

“I think they see technology as a quicker alternative to make deaf people hear and live happily.”

She added: “I’m struggling to find help for Level 4 which starts in September. I’ve got to find nearly £2,000 before then, so it might mean I’ve got to get into more debt.

“It should have been readily available to me from when I found out he was first deaf.”

Over 90% of deaf children in the UK are born to hearing parents, with no experience of deafness. This means they need extra specialist support and advice to communicate with their child.

But, accessing sign language lessons is a postcode lottery, and depends on local availability and council funding.

The National Deaf Children’s Society are concerned this lack of support will have a “catastrophic impact” on deaf children’s development.

Luke Collins-Hayes, Deaf Empowerment Officer at the National Deaf Children’s Society said: “Communicating with your children should be a human right.

“It’s important that funding is made available so all families can access British Sign Language and communicate with their deaf child.

“Imagine not being able to communicate with your child. Imagine if your child can’t tell you how they’re feeling, or what they need and want. Imagine not knowing how to tell your child ‘I love you’.”

Speech and language therapist Anna Sellers agrees deaf children need extra help to be able to communicate with their parents.

“If they can’t communicate with their parents, their behaviour is affected. They can get really upset because the adult isn’t understanding what they are trying to say or what they are feeling. So it’s really important that they have a shared language,” she said.

  • Luke Collins-Hayes says “communicating with your children should be a human right.”

What is BSL and how can I learn it?

The British Deaf Association estimates that British Sign Language (BSL) is the preferred language of 87,000 deaf people in the UK.

BSL has a different grammar and word order to English and doesn’t have a written form. For many deaf people, BSL is an important part of their deaf identity. 

For most people, the best way to learn to sign is through a BSL course taught by a qualified BSL teacher.

Introductory or Family Sign Language courses are usually free. However, these courses will only teach you a very basic level of BSL. To develop your skills further, the cost of an accredited Level 1 course varies, ranging from free to more than £500. More advanced courses usually cost more.

So far, the Government has confirmed that they have no plans to introduce a universal free BSL course for parents of deaf children.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Many local authorities will already fund sign language lessons for parents of deaf children, and we provide funding for a range of British Sign Language qualifications through our adult education budget and advanced learner loans.”

“The Department for Education is currently working towards a new BSL GCSE qualification, which will be available in schools from September 2025.” 

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