Sign of better times for deaf family

14:00 14 May 2014

Sign language family at Kennaway House on Wednesday evening. Photo by Diana Bowerman. Ref shs sign language

Sign language family at Kennaway House on Wednesday evening. Photo by Diana Bowerman. Ref shs sign language


A Sidmouth couple who spent years unable to communicate properly with their children have been given a fresh chance thanks to the generosity of Kennaway House bosses.

Karen Balloch, 43, and Andy Benger, 49, of Temple Street, struggled to talk to their two children Brett and Amelia – because they were both born deaf.

Six-year-old Brett is completely deaf and has double cochlear implants to help him hear, while his sister Amelia, four, is 90 per cent deaf and requires hearing aids.

The couple meet with British sign language tutor Fiona Drummond once a week in a room supplied by premises manager David Leach and trustee Di Bowerman, and have already passed the first signing unit.

However, it was not all plain sailing for Andy and Karen – or her eldest son, Robbie, who has also had to learn to sign.

Brett and Amelia’s condition has been a constant ordeal for the couple, who searched for affordable signing classes for a number of years without success.

Andy even took an online course to grasp a better understanding of the language but struggled to get to grips with it.

It was only when the couple took the issue up with their social worker that an alternative was sourced - but at the cost of missing out on valuable years communicating with their children.

“We are very bitter against the services,” said Karen. “There was nothing we could do about it.”

Andy added: “I’m nearly 50 – it took so much time to get sorted. We had to make up the signs because we didn’t know what to do.”

Now, with the help of their social worker, the family are reaping the rewards as they learn how to sign properly through Fiona’s lessons.

Andy said: “Since we have been taking the course, our relationship with our children is much better, but it is still limited.

“We are very grateful to Fiona and also to David and Di. They have been very extremely kind in letting us use the room. It is fantastic for us as parents that we get the communication back within the family.

“Brett especially has really come out of his shell and we are all looking forward to taking unit two.

“It is just a shame that we could not have done this years ago.”


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