Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Sign Language Post

With both girls we used sign language to help them with their communication since we knew speech would take longer to develop. I've heard the argument many times that teaching children sign language will hinder their speech, to that I say you're wrong! I'm sure there is some fancy research out there somewhere but I haven't looked. I don't need to because I've seen so many children learn sign language first and then take off with their speech later. 

Teaching my girls to COMMUNICATE is far more important to me than teaching them to speak, initially. But teaching communication is also so important for when that speech development DOES come! Depending on what type of therapist you come across you will hear so many different things about signing in regards to speech development. Some therapists will say to teach children very basic signs such as "more," "all done," "eat," "dada," etc. This is the path we've taken with both girls. Some therapists will say to only teach very specific signs, for example, you shouldn't teach them just to say "eat" you should teach them all the different food signs. Well based on their cognitive development as well as fine motor development when we started signing, we had to start on a more broad spectrum and then get more specific. For example, we started with teaching "eat" and when Zoya got really good with that then we would start teaching some specific food signs such as "banana." 

I think just the initial idea of teaching the girls that a sign gets them what they want is so important! "More" has been a really good sign for us to accomplish that with both girls. We've already seen decreased grunting and yelling and frustration from Mila because she understands that she is communicating her needs effectively. This makes her happy. Mila, like many babies learning sign, started using "more" for many things that she wanted (like when she wants my phone or a certain toy), but it was effective and we will expand upon that. They say it's like baby babble. When babies start babbling they babble the same sounds to communicate many different things until their speech develops further.  This is "sign language babble." Don't google that term because I just made it up haha. 

Here is Mila signing "More" and then "Eat." She started by needing hand over hand prompting to sign both of these words. She got really good with "more" and I would request that she sign "more" for bites of her snacks and meals. When she got that down and was doing it without prompting, I added "Eat."
video

Then she learned to sign "More Eat" all together. Today she was signing "More Eat" with no prompting from me (other than just waiting her out). 
video

I was talking to a friend who has a child with special needs as well and she said, "You know when we post things like that video you posted of Mila signing, many people don't realize that to get there you worked on that skill for every single meal and snack for months." She is exactly right. And I guess I didn't really ever think of that. Maybe that is why I am so proud when they learn something new, because I know how hard WE worked at it together. I know how many repetitions it took to cement the skill. So bear with me as I brag about my kids because they work so hard and when they meet milestones and accomplishments that might not seem like a big deal to parents of typical kids, it's definite cause for celebration here!

19 comments:

  1. As a linguistics student interested in the specific field of sign language linguistics, I say YES, it's good to teach children to sign, especially if their speech is delayed. The brain processes it in the same way as it does any other language, allowing it to make those vital connections it needs for kids to understand and communicate. It gets harder and harder for those skills to develop as the child gets older if they haven't started to make them at a young age.

    Basically, any language development is WONDERFUL and hugely beneficial, sign or verbal.

    Also, I loved your description of sign language babbling!

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    1. See I knew there was an answer that sounded much smarter than my babble :) Thank you!!! What you say makes complete sense! Personally I think ASL should be a universal language, that would make things so easy!! :)

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    2. At least in the US. There are so many different sign languages! Some Deaf people are still publicly shunned for signing in a lot of cultures, though. It's terrible how the world treats people with disabilities.

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  2. Brag away my friend because every little achievement is the result of many practices. I think sign is an enhancement of a child's communication and am glad for my children to be able to use it rather than react out of frustration.

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  3. The way you are teaching signs (broad->specific) is exactly how spoken language develops... kids overgeneralize until their vocabulary expands and allows them to be more specific. They might initially call all 4 legged animals "doggy" because that is the animal and word familiar to them. Though I do think it is better to do the opposite for kids with autism. Take the sign/word "more." It doesn't really have any meaning without context. Well, a child with good communicative intent, gesture development, and/or theory of mind will provide that context (either by signing more when the item is in sight, or maybe through pointing at the desired item, etc.). However, kids with autism have a difficult time providing that context. They often have poor theory of mind-- they don't get that you don't know what's in their head, and the delayed gesture development means that they often won't point to clarify, or tap you to get your attention. Also, I've never seen a study about speech development in kids taught to sign (but have heard the same as you, that it helps speech development), but I just wanted to say that I agree 100% that COMMUNICATION development is way more important at this age than SPEECH development.

    Finally, loved seeing Mila combining signs! As an SLP, I look for kids to combine words between 18-24 months. :)

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    1. What FABULOUS insight! Thank you so much! I was thinking of the "doggy" example while I was writing this post! It makes a lot of sense that the opposite approach would be more effective with kids with Autism! I hadn't thought about which approach would be better for which special needs! I was surprised to see Mila putting the two signs together too, I thought we had a little longer to go until she grasped that concept, so she totally shocked me with that! I said to my hubby tonight how it makes me so happy for her to be able to communicate, even if it's little things, with us. It's a good baseline and I hope her communication progress continues! Thanks again for your thoughts!

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  4. In college I was a sign language interpreter. I had fallen in love with sign language when I was in grade school because I used to volunteer at a school for "special needs" children. These children had severe communication delays but their faces would light up when we would sign "How much is that Doggie in the Window" The most they could do was sign "dog" but they knew when to do it and it made me want to go into a field where I could help people who normally couldn't communicate do so.

    I never imagined that years later I would be using it on my daughter adopted through the foster care system or that I would be teaching it to a little girl with DS, that we are planning on adopting,that understands a different language than me. It is such an amazing way to bridge the communication gap and I feel so blessed to know it. I am hoping that our new little one's institution will pick up on that as they have now seen me teach it and how quickly our little one caught on and wanted to learn more. She is older so it took her no time at all to understand that signing cracker got her more food and signing ball or book meant something different. And she loved to sign the word more.

    I have loved following Mila's journey and thank you for sharing it. Your daughters are both beautiful and amazing!

    P.S. You don't have to publish this as it reads more like a book but I just wanted to share my thoughts with you.

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  5. What interesting comments! Watching her come home, I just love seeing her grow, learn and develop. Such a precious little doll she is. She makes me smile just looking at her. So brag away mom I think she and you are doing great!

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  6. Yes, yes, yes to everything you said. We signed with our now 8 year old for four and a half years while we worked through his apraxia of speech. He still, when he gets excited about something, will sign more as he's saying it. Now with our 5 year old (Ds, adopted from Russia, home for 13 weeks) we are using sign to begin to give her the tools she needs to communicate. When we brought her home, she spoke exactly ZERO words in either Russian or English. She now can speak roughly 40-50 words and sign almost 200. The ability to communicate is so important, and signing gives non-verbal children the opportunity to do so while increasing their verbal abilities. Love it!

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  7. Celebration indeed!!! You can see how pleased Mila is that she was able to communicate "more eat" to you! Kudos to you for helping her acquire this with so much loving time and effort - it's also a great bonding tool!! (((BIG HUGS)))!

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  8. Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy Mila!!!!! You brag away Sarah...I think it is fabulous!! Your girls are beautiful and I am so grateful to be able to watch them grow via your blog!!
    Sunnie in NC

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    1. Thanks a bunch :) We are so blessed!

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  9. No need for us to "bear with you" lol, you have every reason to be proud of your precious girls! I LOVE how you work with them to reach their fullest potential just like "typical" kids. Mila is progressing in leaps and bounds just like her big sister. Awesome job, Mila! (And Momma too lol!)

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  10. Amazing! Over here in the UK there is a TV show called 'Mr Tumble'. He uses makaton (baby) sign all the way through the programme. My little girl picks a lot up from that. He also does a show called 'Something special' aimed specifically at kids with special needs. He takes more time to sign in that one. Its on mainstream TV over here, which I think is great.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9mdrqpu0wU

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  11. (I lost my comment so hope this doesn't post twice!)
    Over here in the UK we have a couple of signing shows for kids, done by a children's entertainer called Justin Fletcher. His shows are great. One is called 'something special' designed especially for children with special needs. Its on main stream TV, which I think is brilliant! Here is a clip from youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9mdrqpu0wU
    My little girl has picked up a lot from watching him!

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    1. Oh that is really cool!!!! Thanks for sharing!

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