Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Signing with Doug

I've been meaning to write about signing with Doug for a while, but I've only now just gotten around to it.

Way back when in the B.C. time (before children) I studied Speech Language Pathology and Audiology in college.* One of my classes discussed augmentative communication for children who developed typically, with the main method being American Sign Language. I recall that many studies were done about this and children were able to communicate earlier than their non-signing peers, had a larger vocabulary later on as well as a higher IQ. Contrary to what some people may believe, the studies showed that typically developing children who signed did not have a delay in oral language. I'm really tired of saying that last statement. One of the nurses in our pediatrician's office tried to say that signing made children 'lazy'. I just smiled and tried not to roll my eyes. Some times you just have to pick your battles, ya know?

Anyway, then after college I went to work in a learning center, with a focus on literacy and comprehension. One of our programs was geared to oral language comprehension and as a result we saw many students on the Autism Spectrum. The kids we saw came to us at all levels of language development. Some had good receptive skills, others were good at expressing language. Several had used some signs at point, and we'd sign too if it would help diffuse a situation. I'd taken several ASL classes by this point (but was by no means great at it, I'd forgotten gobs of it) so I could sign with some students as needed.

So, that was long, but that's the place I'm coming from. One of the things I learned in college was about babbling, you know, goo goo gaga, etc. I bet you didn't know that people actually studied this. At any rate, there are various stages of babbling that eventually lead to word formation. Earlier stages are like cooing, with 'ooos and aaahs' with later stages having almost a word like sound, things like 'dado' 'bada' ect. I'd always intended to sign with Doug. I'd bought a book on baby signing when he was about 3 months old with the plan to introduce it at 6 months old. Most babies can get the receptive part down by 8 mos, and then start signing back to you around 10 mos. Well, when Doug was around 6 mos, we started getting ready to move, and the book got misplaced or packed some where. The idea just kind of got shelved, I felt guilty about it, but there were so many other things going on, like moving! When Doug was about ten months old, I noticed that he hadn't advanced to the later stages of babbling in a typical developmental pattern. I wasn't concerned that there was a speech or language issue, he's a boy and sometimes kids will have typical language, but just later on. I believed that his first word would happen in the later end of the normal range and decided we would get cracking on signing.

Right about eleven months old, Doug surprised us by saying 'hi!'. I was pleased, but decided we'd continue on with signing. I think we picked three signs at first to work on, 'milk', 'more' and 'bird'. We chose 'bird' because we have a parakeet that Doug is totally fascinated by, and it's an easy sign (use your thump and index finger like a beak). 'Bird' ended up being Doug's first sign, maybe close to his birthday. A little after 12 months, Doug also began saying 'hot'. Everything concerning food is 'hot' as well as our wedding portrait, which is quite baffling. Then he began to sign 'more' and we really vamped it up. Then came 'milk' which he uses to mean beverage and the action 'to drink', which is totally a separate sign.

As in oral language, children who sign also create their own sign. Doug's first made up sign was 'lotion', which looks like you're rubbing lotion on your hands. He also made up a sign for 'toothbrush', 'open' and Herbert, his lovie.

In all, Doug has seven oral words and over a dozen signs by now and can use signs in combination ( 'more food' 'yes drink' 'please drink' 'please all done') . Very recently, I started to teach him the sign for 'yes'. The other day he started to say 'yes', which sounds like 'yish' while he was signing 'yes'. That was the first time he combined oral ans signed language.

I don't want to push signing on people. I think that every family has its own needs and that everything isn't right for each family. I do believe that signing has opened up doors for us and for Doug and that we're able to communicate with him much more effectively than if we didn't sign. I do encourage people with babies and toddlers to think about it and I'd love to discuss our experience with you, but I am by no means an expert in anything. Except perhaps catching food that comes out of Doug's mouth. Motherhood is so gross some times.

* I have my bachelor's degree, not a master's, so I am not an SLP and cannot practice as one.

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