People often questioned why we were signing to Jackson. We would get the whispered “Oh, he’s deaf?” One woman, when I responded that he was a hearing baby, actually put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘Oh, I’m sorry – he’s autistic then?”. But it was easier with Jackson because when people inevitably asked us if we were concerned that he wouldn’t speak, Jack being very verbal could quickly and easily respond to questions.
It is so different with Lily.
Though more and more people know about it, there are still a lot of people who don’t understand baby signing and they’re not afraid to point out all that could be negative. And that’s how it is with Lily. Many people comment jokingly, with a very serious undertone, that if kids get everything they want with signing than they will never be motivated to speak. I often get a smug smile and shrug when, after many attempts by the well intentioned stranger to get Lily to say her name, I am forced to explain that she has a speech delay.
When I went to a clinic to start the process of getting Lily on a wait list I wondered if the pathologist would advise against our use of sign language, as many people had warned. Since that initial clinic, I have informally met with 2 professionals and had Lily’s first assessment with her Speech Pathologist, Sarah. All have encouraged us to continue signing. With Lily signing we know that she has words, she’s just not using them verbally yet. We know that she is stringing words together age appropriately. We know that she understands and picks up new words easily. Lily is able to communicate with her signs and because of this a number of problems can be ruled out from the start.
Sarah was wonderful. We went into a little room and all sat on the floor to interact with Lily. It was over an hour of questions, discussion and playing. There was no diagnosis but it seems that Lily has a problem with imitation which is quite a barrier when learning to speak. So we begin sessions on a weekly basis starting this week.
I’ve always looked at it as an amazing thing that by using sign language we have had communication for the past year rather than constant frustration and feeling like I was always trying to guess what she needed, what she was thinking or what she wanted. Instead we’ve had a year of communication. Yet, people are so quick to blame signing for her not talking yet. Perhaps people picture us signing to the kids without speaking to them but the opposite is true. The kids are inundated with language. We have merely added some signs to couple with our words.
Towards the end of our assessment Sarah mentioned that in watching Lily interact there were a few moments where she would have seen frustration if Lily hadn’t have been signing. She explained that any form of communication is welcome and if children don’t have sign language they will often turn to other methods to get their message across.
At 23 months, Lily has few verbal words. Signing isn’t to blame for that. Signing has given her an outlet to get her ideas and needs across. Signing has given us a glimpse into her world that we wouldn’t have had for the past 13 months. So the next time she signs to someone and they tell her to say it, not to sign it, I’ll just continue to smile and encourage her to sign as I pronounce the word even more clearly for her.