Thursday, 6 September 2012

Sign Me Up

Before I started this blog, I did some writing for the Waterloo Region Family Network. Here's something I posted on the WRFN blog a couple of years ago when Carter was seven. The article was actually written when Carter was five. It was an assignment for a freelance writing course that I took. It tells of another form of augmentative communication that Carter used before he got his talker.

Parents would not be human if they, like everyone else in the world, didn’t follow new trends, especially trends that make life easier. You don’t have to search too hard to find the latest fads in baby gear and accessories. Products in the world of babies and toddlers change so drastically that it is often hard to keep up. Strollers become more compact and car seats become safer, with seat belt systems more elaborate than last year’s model. As the world changes, so too do the tools required for the job of parenting.

A current trend in the world of new parents and tots is to use sign language to communicate.  This consists of mom and dad learning a few basic signs likes more, all done, mom, dad, drinkcookie, etc. When mom and dad model these signs for their little ones, babies imitate what they see, enabling them to communicate with their parents long before their vocal chords are mature enough for speech.


Parents of a child with special needs learn to sign out of necessity rather than choice because often along with other challenges, their child has a delay in speech and language. Due to the recent trend of signing with babies, there are a variety of resources available to purchase or borrow from local libraries that assist with the learning of simple, relevant signs.

My husband and I anticipated speech difficulties with our son, Carter because he was born with a cleft palate. However, the cleft palate did not explain why our son was not developing speech and language skills at an age appropriate rate. Over time, we made a gradual discovery that our son has global developmental delay.

Carter’s signing vocabulary grew over time.  We started by teaching him food items and then moved on to his favourite toys. We have since taught him signs to label specific items of clothing as well as colours.

Initially a child must be motivated by an item in order to learn to sign for it. It was no surprise to us that Carter’s first signed word was cookie. Although motivated to copy the hand motion that we showed him in order to be rewarded with a cookie, the process was painstaking initially, due to the amount of demonstrations, and repetitions needed before he finally caught on to what was expected of him. In the end it was very rewarding for both Carter and me. Carter got what he wanted because he now had a way to express himself and I was able to provide for him at his request.

It is often very easy to give a child what they want if they point or motion toward the item.  Parents fall into the habit of giving their child what they want before they even ask for it. It was helpful to create opportunities to teach Carter new signs by hiding an item or putting it out of reach so that he was forced to request it.

Carter’s fine motor skills are delayed which created some challenges around certain signs, as some hand motions were too complicated for him. When this occurred, we would revise the sign to make it more manageable for Carter. We also created signs so that he had a way to name certain family members, as well as friends.

At [seven] years of age, our son interacts with a variety of people often away from home.  Unfortunately, it is not feasible for us, as parents, to expect everyone that Carter sees on a regular basis, to learn sign language.  It has been a very beneficial method of communication that has bridged a gap between Carter, his family and his therapists.  However, we’ve recently made the transition to the next level of communication with Carter, a voice output device.  Unlike baby sign, a portable, talking computer device is not all that trendy, but just as strollers and car seats have evolved, so too must my son’s method of communication.

So much has changed in the world of technology over the last few years. We are now in the golden age of the iPad with AAC apps being developed at a rapid pace. If Carter had been born just a few years later, things may have been quite different. I may or may not have gone the sign language route with him. Nevertheless, I'm grateful that he has a back-up method of communication for when his talker is unavailable to him and I'm thrilled that we live in the age that we do because so many high-tech options have become more readily available to those who are non-verbal.


  1. Stacey, isn't technology amazing? It's so great, though, that Carter has the benefit of both his talker and his sign language. Options mean so much. And how terrific he's got such supportive parents to get all of this in place!

    I tried to watch your video on the next post, but it says it's private. I will try again once I'm signed into my own blog, in case that somehow makes a difference. I'm really not that tech-savvy!

    Best wishes to the whole family.
    Ida Mae

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ida-Mae. And thanks for the heads up about the slideshow. I'm still learning but I hope I was able to get all the kinks out. I posted it once, then reposted it...and now I've changed the settings from private to public (thanks to you!) so I really hope it will work and people will be able to view it.