Elise has been seriously delayed in speech. I mean really, REALLY delayed. Many of her friends have developed speech slowly, but have been close to their typical peers, with some pronunciation/enunciation issues. Elise's speech is more like a 2-3 year old and she is 8. So, you can see, if you looked back, how the speech would decrease by age to be virtually not at all, at stages where others would be chatting away, and she would have nothing to go on.
At first, I really believed that if we just kept talking to her, and modelling proper speech she would pick it up, and improve eventually. In my head, "eventually" would be a matter of weeks and months rather than years. After a while, it became apparent that it was not going to happen. I had always been afraid, that Stubborn Creature that she was, if Elise decided that she liked sign language, she would choose not to use her voice to express herself.
Then she started to get REALLY frustrated if we didn't know what she was trying to say. Her single word association games were not cutting it the more advanced her ideas got. She started acting out at school and against her siblings for not listening better.
So we decided that communication was far more important than the how. After all sign was certainly not baby-talk and it was a language in its own right.
So we started really working on signs for her needs and wants. Her sign vocabulary really started taking off. She became significantly less frustrated and surprisingly, we actually started to get a lot of words along with them. And most importantly, she grew in confidence and her frustration and anger dissipated.
At school not many of her friends knew sign above simple baby signs for "more" or "eat" so she started to use words with her signs for their educational benefit and her dependence on the signs lessened somewhat. I frankly regret that, because the signs seem to meet her at a different level than speech, she has a real propensity to pick them up. Now she uses speech primarily. Many of her speech therapists believe the same as I used to, in my ignorance. If she had had speech therapists who had a better knowledge of sign language, I believe that her communication would be stronger and she would probably use more sign.
This is not to say that school is primarily responsible for teaching/learning sign, but I believe it should be more responsible for using and supporting it. We used it a lot with her at home, but because of the peer pressure not to, she doesn't use it much. (As a matter of fact, our dog responds to signs, even without words!!)
Elise is still a fan of Signing Time, Baby Einstein's signing DVDs, and general use of sign. But I cannot emphasize enough, how very freeing any real communication becomes and the confidence that is an outgrowth of that empowerment.
This story is to tell you just how very valuable sign language can be to kids with development delays and speech problems.
When Mey contacted me about her website and tools I was terribly excited and asked her to put together a write up about her resources and allow me a guest post. So here is Mey to tell you about her great website:
"Signing For Babies with Down Syndrome-Finding Joy in Alternative Communication
Learning new ways to communicate for parents of a child with Downs Syndrome is
always exciting and full of hope. Sign language for babies is an effective way to teach
your child the joys of communication.
Downs Syndrome is characterized by developmental delays that can impact many facets
of development, from motor skills to speech and emotional interpretation. In years past;
parents yearned for a way to correspond, but were often disappointed with some of
the approaches used. The developmental delays associated with Downs Syndrome can
be frustrating when trying to build a solid foundation for communicating. Episodes of
frustration often confused with temper tantrums demonstrated by children with Downs
Syndrome stem from the inability to communicate. That is where the benefits of BSL
come into play.
Baby sign language is a solution during the transitory period as your child grows,
and creates a means to communicate until he begins to make progress with oral
communication. In recent years, advocates for BSL have garnered support from the
medical community acknowledging the positive attributes of teaching BSL to children
with developmental disabilities. Numerous studies have shown that implementing the
use signing in children with Down syndrome is advantageous when used in conjunction
with conventional speech therapy. Although there are some speech delays, the ability to
express themselves through movement is not as restricted. Often motor capabilities are
developed before the capacity for speech. When a child is taught BSL, it offers a positive
method of expression and correspondence often resulting in a happier more responsive
child that is eager to learn and engage with their surroundings.
Baby Sign Language is simple for a parent to teach. The first step is to decide on a few
words as a place to start, try to begin with no more than five words. You can begin
signing as early as you wish but you are most likely to see results between 7th and 14th
month. The key to successfully teaching BSL is contextual repetition. Every time you
perform the task for your chosen word, be sure to sign it at the same time that you convey
it verbally. The most helpful piece of advice anyone could offer when teaching sign
language is to be patient. It could take several weeks and most likely months for your
child to sign back to you. Even though, they may learn to understand the signs, it could
be a while before they respond, so do not give up, be persistent and delight in the journey
as you learn together.
The wants, needs, love and joy shared by you and your child should not go unexpressed
and remain prisoner by perceived and real boundaries imposed by their disability. There
is always a workaround and baby sign language offers just that. Know that you are not
alone in this road. Your pace may be different but you will find many friends and much
love in your walk. Encourage and be encouraged. If you need someone to talk stop by
Baby Sign Language Facebook Community and join the conversation.
You can also visit http://www.babysignlanguage.com/ and read their baby signing blog for
encouragement and guidance or download all the free didactic resources available for
I am very impressed with the wealth of information and resources on the Baby Sign Language website and their Facebook site is a pleasure as well. I hope that you consider sign language for your child as a tool to help them communicate, whether they have disabilites or not. Certainly go see what Baby Sign Language has to offer. Give your child as many tools to share their thoughts as they can, and you will encourage their expression and confidence.