Saturday, August 24, 2013

Singing the Praises of Sign Language

Sign Language = Awesome

We don’t let Nolan watch TV anymore, for a few reasons. He was in love with TV (PBS kids shows) and knew how to turn on the TV himself, so there was no stopping him. I was also worried what so much TV was doing to his rapidly developing brain. So, we just got rid of our service (yay for saving money!). We do, however, let him watch a “movie” occasionally. “Movie” to him means Signing Time, a sign language video program, which we have several episodes of on DVD. And he loves it so much, he will gladly sign “movie” when it’s time to watch one. 

 Enjoying some Signing Time today!

Nolan turning on the TV then getting comfy in his chair. Too bad there's no TV service!

We started signing with Nolan when he was around 10 months, but he didn’t sign his first word until he was 17 months. We know Nolan will have a speech delay, so we decided to sign with him because kids (including kids with Down syndrome) tend to pick up sign language before they learn to talk. This has been the case with Nolan. At 24 months, he can sign roughly 20 words, but has yet to say his first word. He doesn't sign every word correctly, so some are an approximation of the actual sign, but we can usually figure out what he's saying based on context -usually.

 Nolan signing his first word at 17 months. "More."

I love that sign language has given Nolan a voice. I’m so grateful that he is able to learn a way to communicate and express himself since he is not able to talk yet. Signing is one of the few ways Nolan can express his understanding of something, and that is huge. I know he understands a lot more than we probably realize, so it’s exciting to actually see his understanding of something –even if it’s as simple as signing “hat” because he saw some hats on display in a store. I just about cried over that one! Now, we’re working on expanding his sign language vocabulary, and even more importantly, teaching him to use a sign independently to request something (express a need/want). Right now, Nolan mostly uses signs to comment (i.e. he sees a dog and signs “dog”).

A lot of people ask me how we teach Nolan sign language. I have a sign language book, The Joy of Signing, (I got it in high school because I thought sign language was fascinating) so we look up words we want to use in there. There are several methods we use to teach them to Nolan. Mostly we just repeat a sign several times as we say the word and show him the object or what it means. Since he likes books so much, I have also made him a few books that have pictures of objects from around our house (thank you, Shutterfly!). We read the book with him and sign the word/picture on each page. Occasionally we use “hand over hand” technique, which is when we help his hands to make the signs. Because Nolan struggles with fine motor control, he can’t get his hands/fingers to form all the signs accurately yet. He doesn’t really like hand over hand so we don’t do it very often.

We’ll continue to use sign language for as long as Nolan needs it. At some point, I’m sure speaking will become more efficient than signing, so it’ll probably fade away. However, I have met adults with Down syndrome that supplement their speech with signs, especially if they are having trouble being understood. I love using signs with Nolan and I’m just so thankful that he loves learning the signs too.

And then there's the occasional signing faux pas, like when Nolan saw this poster at the grocery store and signed "daddy." Or the time when he saw a little girl with long hair at Chipotle and signed "dog."

FYI, we use American Sign Language (ASL) with Nolan. There are other types of sign language, which are adapted from ASL, like “baby sign language” or “Makaton” signs, that are used mostly with infants and young children because some of the words have been made easier to sign for small hands. Since we don’t know in what capacity Nolan will need to use sign language, and it’s a great skill to have in life anyway, we want him to learn all the correct signs.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Hi sweetie, you do know if you need help with signing..Richard can show you some through skype. He is an Interpeter for the deaf and is working on his Masters in the field. Any questions send me a message on facebook.