18 March 2022

British Sign Language Day: BSL brings us together

Maria blogs on Sign Language Week’s theme “BSL brings us together” and explains how her son and grandchildren have benefitted from learning sign language.

When my son was 18 months old, we noticed that he hadn’t started to make the usual babbling noises that babies of that age do. This led to our GP referring him to have his hearing checked, which came back clear.

My son was referred for speech and language therapy and as part of it I was asked to learn Makaton. Makaton is not a language, but an assortment of signs that are used, in spoken word order, alongside speech to help, encourage and support those who have communication or learning impairments. It does however use the same or similar signs and the same sign alphabet as BSL. He was also given Portage assistance (a home-visiting educational service) when he was 2, after speech and language therapy finished and we continued to sign to sustain communication.

My son didn’t start to talk until he was 4 years old but full speech was still slow progress. He was formally diagnosed with Autism at 7 years old. We joined a couple of clubs for children with additional needs (as it was known then) and I learnt to sign the whole of “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” from beginning to end.

My son didn’t do well in mainstream school as they could never really communicate with him or accommodate his frustrations. He’s now in a specialist school and can talk for England on any of his given interests. The main difference is that the specialist school uses British Sign Language, so it doesn’t matter whether a student is non-verbal, deaf, or hearing, they can all communicate with each other and their teachers.

Signing with young or non-verbal children helps alleviate the frustrations of not being able to communicate. I’ve started to teach some signs to my 2-year-old grandson who has been diagnosed with non-verbal autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I’m also teaching my granddaughter to sign some words and the alphabet so she can communicate better with her brother.

If we all learnt to sign, then perhaps communication would be one less barrier?


British Sign Language (BSL) day is on 18 March. On this day in 2003, the UK government recognised British Sign Language as a language in its own right. Nineteen years on, British Sign Language still needs to be fully acknowledged as a language under UK law. The BSL Bill is currently going through parliament, with the hope it will be passed soon. However, things have progressed as the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill was passed in 2015, followed by further developments in Wales and the Northern Ireland BSL/ISL Bill.