Lámh gives a helping hand
A manual sign system has helped a great many people thanks to accredited courses. Its 500 signs give vital communicative help, writes Michelle McDonagh
Lámh is the manual sign system used by children and adults with intellectual disability and communication needs in Ireland. Children and adults with Down syndrome, autism or developmental disability may have difficulty communicating and may use Lámh signs to help them to communicate and to support their understanding.
Some children and adults use Lámh as their main way of communicating while others use Lámh along with speech and other methods of communication. There are 500 Lámh signs, based on Irish Sign Language (ISL) and on natural gesture.
Mary Cullen, project manager at the Lámh Development Office based at the Carlow IT Innovation Centre, explains: “For a person with an intellectual disability who has experienced difficulties with communication, being able to communicate using sign can make a vital difference to their lives. It enables them to interact with other people, to express their wants and needs, and to build relationships.”
Developed in the early 1980s and grant-aided by the Health Service Executive, Lámh is a type of Augmentative or Alternative Communication (AAC) support. AAC is a set of tools and strategies that an individual uses to solve everyday communicative challenges. A decision as to whether Lámh might be useful will be based on a communication assessment usually carried out by a speech and language therapist.
Some Lámh users may use sign for a period of time and then may drop the signs when their speech develops, or they may use Lámh throughout their lives. Speech is always used with Lámh signs and only key words in a sentence are signed.
Families and professionals who are supporting Lámh users attend courses delivered by trained Lámh tutors and family trainers. Lámh trainers are speech and language therapists, teachers, family support workers etc who deliver Lámh courses as part of their regular role. Usually staff members attend training organised by their employer, and families attend training organised by their service provider.
There are approximately 180 Lámh trainers around the country, working in services such as the HSE, St John of God’s, Brothers of Charity, Daughters of Charity, St Michael’s House and Stewart’s Hospital Services. Over 1,400 people participated in Lámh training courses in 2012 and 381 families attended the family course.
“For almost 30 years, stardardised Lámh training has been delivered to staff members and professionals whose work involves supporting Lámh users and their families, using practical and theoretical training in communication, assessment and implementation of a manual sign programme as well as the mechanics of making signs. Accreditation for this training was awarded locally by Lámh (Communication Augmentation Sign System Ltd),” says Cullen.
Recognising that formal accreditation under a nationally recognised system was a next step, Lámh sought the support of the Open Training College to develop Further Education and Training Certification accreditation for Lámh training. The module two Lámh course was identified as the course best matched to Fetac accreditation for this phase, and it was matched to level five on the National Qualifications Framework. The result, explains Cullen, was the creation of a Fetac level five module called Facilitating Communication through Lámh and the launch of a new programme Using Lámh in a Total Communication Approach which leads to two Fetac modules under the Intellectual Disability Practice Award.
She says: “The course content aims to provide a rounded training to those supporting communication for a child or adult with communication needs. This involves learning Lámh signs, and opportunities for practising sign use in the context of a real communication experience. The course also covers the environment around the sign user – how inclusion and advocacy might be promoted; what would support the sign user to communicate, eg showing signs to peers in the classroom; and providing information about what Lámh is to those in the mainstream school setting or in the person’s local community, eg the swimming teacher, the sports group or the supported employment experience. Additionally, the relevant legislation regarding communication rights and advocacy are addressed.”
As well as being the parent of a Lámh user, Anne Carberry is a Lámh tutor and formerly branch secretary of Down Syndrome Ireland’s Wexford branch.
She says the development of the new Fetac-accredited Lámh course underlines Lámh’s place in the mainstream and also ensures an increase in the availability of training and expertise in Lámh.
“It is liberating for families to know that Lámh training is now widely available and that, for example, teachers and SNAs in both mainstream and special schools now know about Lámh signing and can train up to Fetac level five in Lámh. This is so important for Lámh users who rely on Lámh signs for communication in their daily lives,” she says.
Lámh and Down Syndrome Ireland produced a DVD of nursery rhymes with Lámh signs for young users in 2009, called Lámh-a-Song. Twelve songs including Old MacDonald, Incy Wincy Spider, The Wheels on the Bus are sung and signed on the DVD which has been very popular among young Lámh users, families, pre-schools and schools.
For further information, contact Mary Cullen, Lámh project manager at 059-9139657 or email email@example.com