Saturday, 19 May 2012

Signing Fun

Sign language has become a part of life for our family since Felix has been born. I know I've written about it before in my blog, but I think it's so important, I wanted to mention it again.

You can't get more Australian than having
Vegemite all around your mouth!
I am so thankful we decided to learn sign language when we knew Felix was going to be born with Down Syndrome. We are starting to reap the rewards as Felix is able to make himself understood so much now even though he can't speak verbally. We are using 'key sign' which means that we only sign the key words in a sentence, not every single word like we would if Felix was unable to hear. For example, if I say to Felix, "Let's go and pick up your brothers from school", I will only sign the words 'brothers' and 'school'. We try teach ourselves a few new words every week and we choose the words around things which are relevant to Felix at the time. He has played in the sand a bit this week, so we have learnt the words, 'bucket', 'spade' and 'sand'. By regularly using the signs, as well as the spoken word, Felix is gradually picking up on the signs over time. This morning when we were out shopping I said to Felix, "We're nearly finished" (but I forgot to sign 'finished'). Straight away Felix started to sign the word 'Finished'.

Here's a quick video of Felix doing some signing.

When I speak to people about teaching Felix to sign, there are some who are skeptical about it. Years ago there was a belief that if you taught a 'hearing' child how to sign, it would make them lazy and as a result, they would refuse to verbalise words they knew a sign for. In recent years there is evidence to suggest quite the opposite. It has become more popular (even with parents of children who have no disability), to teach their children to sign. Teaching a child to sign actually encourages earlier speech patterns and children who learn to sign will often speak sooner than those who don't sign. What usually happens is that once a child learns to speak a word, they will then stop using the sign for that word.

Using sign language for children with Down Syndrome can help in different ways. The biggest reason why we decided to use sign language with Felix was to eliminate a certain amount of frustration. Children with Down Syndrome are generally slower to speak than other kids and the degree to which they will be able to speak, verbally, varies from person to person and is not something you can predict when the child is born. We don't know how 'verbal' Felix will be, so it's really important to us as a family for Felix to be able to express to us what he wants and how he feels. Imagine how difficult it would be if you were hungry, but were unable to express that to the person who cared for you. Even worse, if you were feeling sad or in pain but noone knew. I'm really hoping that Felix will be able to speak clearly when he's older, but if he can't (which is OK too), then at least we have something in place to help us all be able to communicate with each other. In the meantime, it's brilliant for him to be able to tell us what he wants!

Some children with Down Syndrome have varying degrees of hearing loss. Some is able to be corrected by tubes or grommets in the ears, and some people wear hearing aids. Others have significant hearing loss which is unable to be corrected. In these situations, sign language becomes even more important. I would strongly encourage it anyway as the future is unpredictable. Besides, it's a fun thing to learn and the whole family can get involved. Here in Australia we use Auslan sign language. If anyone is interested in learning, this website is fantastic   Click on where it says 'Create Custom Phrase' and type in any word you'd like to learn. A diagram will come up showing you how to sign it. Give it a go :)

One of Felix's first signs was 'Cat'
Felix will sometimes make up his own signs for things even though we sign it the correct way to him. At the moment, when he wants a drink he will tap his thumb against his chest (similar to the sign for 'more' but just with his thumb). The main thing is that you understand what your child is saying. It doesn't matter if they don't get it exactly right as long as the two of you know what is being said. We are so proud of Felix and thankful for everything he is able to communicate to us through sign. He's an amazing little guy!

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