Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

A Heywood-based sign language group is reaching out to offer support to mark Learning Disability Week (June 20-26).

Sign language can help people overcome communication difficulties, enabling them to build relationships, take part in activities, education, and work and ultimately improve their independence.

Now, one therapist is sharing how her group helps those with additional needs as part of Learning Disability Week.

Kirsty Savidge is a speech and language therapist with the Heywood, Middleton, and Rochdale adult community learning disability service, provided by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust.

In 2019, she began to support Middleton mum Aileen, 70, and her daughter Helen, 35, who has Down’s Syndrome.

Following a challenging period, Helen was finding communicating with others even tougher than before.

Kirsty, who is also trained in sign language, tried various approaches with Helen and signing proved to be the method Helen preferred.

Their success sparked the idea of setting up a weekly group to help as many people as possible communicate more effectively through sign language.

On why she enjoys her work and why the group has been so valuable, Kirsty said: “Teaching sign language is one of the favourite parts of my job. It can make a huge difference to people.

“This warm friendly group gives people a chance to practise signing and learn new signs in a fun way.

“It is a time to answer queries about signs and encourage everyone to express themselves through sign. It helps everyone to see that all forms of communication are welcome and valued.”

Kirsty worked with local social enterprise PossAbilities to set up the group, which has been running for two years.

The group includes people with a learning disability, their families, and carers and those who simply want to communicate better with someone who has communication difficulties.

Each week the group chooses a theme, which has included health and hygiene, safeguarding and healthy eating. Sometimes the theme is linked to a seasonal event such as Christmas or Eid, or an awareness week.

There’s also a social aspect to the group, with members invited to share their story, if they wish. And each session ends on a high, with a song and dance.

After taking a break from the group during the pandemic, Helen and her mum have recently begun to attend again.

The group is held on Tuesdays from 1pm to 1.30pm at the social lounge, Cherwell Centre, Cherwell Avenue, Heywood OL10 4SY. As a bonus, the centre boasts a free onsite farm and sensory garden. If people would like to join, they can call 01706 692181.


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