I Want to Tell You More: Sign Language Gives My Son a Voice
I stood in front of my son listening and listening, and I still couldn't understand what he said. He calmly repeated the word over and over. I felt horrible. I wanted to understand more.
"Boooey," he said, again. He opened his hand and placed the palm in front of his mouth, as if you were to blow on it, exhibiting patience with me as if he was the speech therapist and I was the student.
"I'm sorry. I know you are trying so hard," I said, "But I still don't understand." We stood in the driveway in the hot sun. He'd been repeating the word since he got off the bus. The inability to communicate ideas must be the most frustrating experience. I know when I can not get my point across, I get mad, disappointed, or sad. Not being able to fully express his ideas - no matter how complicated or simple they may be - tangles into a web of behavior problems.
Down syndrome can saddle kids with a larger tongue, not as much an issue with my son, but he does have many problems with muscle tone. It takes a lot of muscles to say booey and even more to say butterfly, want, dog, cat, color, or pirate. Sign language has saved us. When my son could put his little hands together to form the signed word for "more," I taught him. What word does a child run into more than more?
More of everything.
I've found people, including professionals, that said I'd limit my son's speech. I found others who thought it was amazing to teach sign language. What I do know, is that my son had a way to express himself when his body let him down. It allows him to think for himself, make decisions, and interact. The one syllable words like more, now, after, mommy, grandma, and wait give us the chance to move through what could have turned into a long, drawn out tantrum.
I really, really love sign language, I even taught my daughter when she was a toddler, who has no problem talking at all (and I mean at all). With the incredible changes in the speed of the Internet and design of websites, it is now as easy as going to a website like the Handspeak - a resource site to learn American Sign Language - and putting in the search for a word. Try smart or bread and see if you don't get hooked on looking up words and trying to remember how to sign them.
"Boooey," my son repeated.
"Ooohhh," I said. "Woody!"
"Yes!" he said. Even though I have no idea how to sign booey or Woody, sign language has empowered my son to have the patience to search for other words because he now has a communication toolbox.
"Woody!" he said, excited. "Woody!" He wanted to watch Toy Story.
"Thank you," he said as he signed the word for thank you. We joined hands and walked up to the house.
"Are you happy?" I asked him and signed the word.
"Yes," he said. "Thank you." He signed the word again as we reached the house and stepped out of the hot sun to see if we could indeed find Woody.