When we learned that Cayden was deaf, we decided that signing was going to be a priority (at this time we didn’t know the extent of his visual impairment, so we proceeded as if he could see.) I had already done the research on Baby Signs and the benefits of signing with small children in aiding communication, so this was actually an easy mental shift.
With the help of C’s early interventionist for the deaf and hard of hearing, we started learning ASL. (american sign language). We had decided to continue to use the Total Communication method (using all forms of communication input). We were taught to constantly sign and speak to him, getting him both forms of communication at once. He could see the signs, lip read &/or hear the words. More avenues of input = more options for communication.
So I would narrate and sign all. day. long. to him.
I would sign while feeding him. Sign while reading to him. Sign one-handed while driving with him. (I would sign praise songs to him in the car on our long trips). I was always signing, learning with him, growing our ASL vocabulary together. Ask me any sign for animals, colors, beginning words, I had it down. Adult words and more complex phrases, not so much. But we were communicating.
Where did I learn sign language? Well, our HI interventionist taught me the basics. She had a video for me to watch that discussed how to sign with a deaf child: be sure they are looking at you, go slow & sign clearly. Use simple signs for simple words. Use a one word language at first, just like children learn to talk. We discussed my attending a sign language class at the community college, but decided that I would consider that if I found I was struggling with the simpler avenues. Adding another thing to my already packed schedule was not ideal.
My favorite resource for learning ASL was a book I found called, “Talking with your hands, Listening with your eyes.” This book had the signs clearly pictured and explained, and grouped by category. So when we were reading a book about animals with Cayden, I would study the section on animals to prepare myself. Or Colors, or body parts. Each sign had a simple reminder clue that really worked well for me to picture the ‘why’ behind the signs. I highly recommend this book!
After we had been signing for a while, Cayden began to sign back. He learned the signs for finished (2 hands brushing down his chest), milk (squeezing your hand as if milking a cow), more (2 hands fingertips together). Those really were the important ones, and they helped him to begin to tell me what he wanted. I don’t have any pictures of him signing, so you’ll have to believe me that he did!
One of the other benefits of talking with your hands, is that the baby sister can learn too. Skylar was proficient in signing and really used it well. It helps with typically developing children as well as deaf children, since they can sign long before they can speak, and it helps to aid in their early communication. Skylar never really hit the terrible twos, I believe because we could understand her clearly signed needs so tantrums weren’t necessary.
As the kids got older, we enjoyed using Signing Times DVD’s and PBS show. This is a well-made, kid-friendly show that teaches basic vocabulary, simple kid songs, and has other children signing to the viewers too. The family who stars in the show created it because one of their children was deaf. I think that is great!
Communication is so important, and signing was a simple thing to learn to find a way to communicate with our child. Did you know that signing has even been around since Biblical times? In Luke 1, Zechariah was struck dumb due to his disbelief that in his old age, he would have a son with his barren wife, Elizabeth. He had an encounter in the inner sanctuary of the temple with the angel Gabriel, who shared this news with him. Luke tells us in Chapter 1:22: When he (Zechariah) came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. Zechariah was unable to speak until his child, John (to become John the baptist) was born.
When their child was born, verse 59 says, “They were going to name him after his father Zechariah. but his mother spoke up and said, “NO! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”
Signing is a valid way to communicate with either deaf or mute people. It is a true language, and it requires study and practice to both talk in sign and to read sign. I can do many signs, but I have a hard time reading signs, especially by people who use it all the time, and sign very quickly. Letter spelling is particularly hard for me to read. The less I practice, the more I forget. It takes two people to communicate, and using sign language is no different.
After Cayden got his cochlear implant, they told us to talk nonstop to him. The more auditory input the child can get the better. Most CI recipients use a speech only method, to really kick their sense of hearing into high gear. They want no distractions… turn off the radio, turn off the tv, just talk with them. Constantly. Narrate your day. I would have Cayden by my side in whichever chair we had at the time, sitting with me, listening.
It became so natural to me, that I still find my self narrating… “We are taking the dinner out of the oven. The oven is hot. Hot, hot, hot. Don’t touch the hot oven. The oven cooks the dinner. Yum! Doesn’t that dinner smell delicious! When it cools, we can eat the yummy dinner.We are having chicken for dinner. Chickens say ‘cluck, cluck, cluck. Can you say “cluck, cluck, cluck?” And so on. That was my daily ritual for years. After C died, I still did it. It was a habit, and I think I still talked to him after his death, to keep him closer to me. I may not speak my narrations out loud often these days, but sometimes you will see me moving my mouth, talking in the store, as I share my daily life and rituals with my sweet, special son.
I believe narration is an excellent way to introduce babies and children to language, because it does not use baby talk, but full ‘adult’ sentences and language. And I believe that my training and habit in narrating, used on Devin, made him an early talker, speaking full sentences by 9 months.