Tuesday, October 19, 2010

31 for 21: Teaching a Child with Down Syndrome Sign Language

We have been questioned by several people over the years as to why we would choose to teach the boys sign language instead of focus more on speech.  We began signing simple signs to the twins when they were about 10 months old.  It took approximately 8 months for us to even get a sign back out of them.  Ironically, it was Caleb in the hospital with pnemonia sitting in his crib, and looked at his daddy and signed "Cracker"..  He knew what he wanted and he figured it was time to let daddy know what he wanted.

They have never slowed down since that day.  Today we estimate they know about 300 signs.  The communicate daily with us using sign language.  We primarily learned all their signs from an awesome sign language program called Signing Times.  Since January of this year we have also been doing the Your Baby Can Read program and there we have had to look up signs on a site called www.aslpro.com.  They amaze me and all of their workers at how quickly they mimic new signs and learn them quickly.

This is the best story that I have to share about teaching them sign language.

Tom's grandmother and grandfather were one of the people who could not understand why we choose to teach them sign language.  They commented on it almost every time they saw us signing to us, let them talk.. if you teach them to sign they will never want to talk.. things like that.   Tom's grandfather passed away in April of 2009.  As he was laying terribly ill with cancer about to take his life, we took the kids to see him and love on him one last time before he was unable to recognize them anymore.  We sat and enjoyed some cookies that I made as a treat for grandpa and we laughed and we cried.  As the kids were all lining up to give grandpa hugs and kisses, it was Isaacs turn to kiss PaPa goodbye.  Without prompting he signed "I Love You" to Papa.  Grandpa looked at him and then looked at me and asked what he just did.  When I said that he just signed I Love You, Grandpa was full of tears and he THANKED us for teaching them to sign.  Without that Isaac would have never been able to let PaPa know before he passed that he did indeed love him.  It still makes me weepy to tell this story. 

We still do not have any words out of the boys.  We still hold onto hope that someday they will talk, but if they should never speak a word, I am so happy that they are learning everyday more and more ways to express their feelings and we will continue teaching them sign language until we run out of words.  If anyone is on the fence about teaching their child sign language thinking that they will deter them from speaking words, remember that communication in any form is better than none.  I have been told and have seen with my eyes, that signing is more difficult that speaking and when the child learns to speak they will mostly likely no longer use the signs anymore.


Ria said...

I had a brief kleenex moment reading the story about Isaac and his PaPa! So sweet.
I am glad that we taught Matthew to sign too. It was our bridge to verbal communication, still is. Matthew is 3 now. He's trying to say more words but most of his speech is still not intelligible to someone who's not used to hearing him speak. Sometimes I still have to guess. So we sign sometimes and use picture cards too. I intend to teach his li'l sis sign language too. It's a very helpful tool!

abecky529 said...

Nice to meet you via facebook. I am enjoying your blogs. My daughter, with Ds, Lydia, has apraxia which limits her speech so she signs and started signing at 1 year old. I am thankful that I can communicate with her through signs.

Becky M.

:) Danielle said...

Such an encouraging story. I had a 'kleenex' moment too!

Brandie said...

This story brought tears to my eyes. How awesome! I met a mom at speech who has a son with DS. He is 6. She said they only taught him "basic" signs. She didn't want him to know too many because she would rather he talk. Well, he isn't talking,so there goes that theory. I wish I knew a nice way to disagree with her. I really don't think she knows any better. She also didn't want to teach him to read. Her mother was encouraging her to get a sight reading program. That's why we blog right? To educate.