Friday, July 26, 2013

Using Sign Language with my Daughter with Down Syndrome

Little Cora Bean is a pretty enthusiastic signer.  I often get questions and comments on signing with her, so I thought I'd share a bit about our experience so far.

Using sign language with Cora is something that I decided I wanted to do pretty early on.

Although there are still some people that feel that signing can delay speech by causing a child to rely on signs to the extent that speech doesn't seem necessary, the information and research out there overwhelmingly supports the use of sign language with children.

I personally felt that adding a second language could only help benefit her early learning.  And with all the information telling me that people with Ds are typically visual learners, and that speech can often be significantly delayed, I wanted her to have a way to communicate early on.  From my reading, I felt that Total Communication (using signs, visuals, pictures, etc. at the same time as the spoken word) would also help to enhance her understanding and command of spoken English.

So I knew I wanted to sign with Cora, but I knew absolutely nothing about it.  I took the advice of many of the parents on my forums, and ordered Baby Signing Time videos, and later Signing Time videos.

Cora started watching the first episode of Baby Signing Time at about 8 months old.  She loved it.  She would get excited and watch, enraptured.  I learned those 20 or so signs and started trying to incorporate them into our lives.

But it was hard to remember.  I felt like I wasn't being very consistent.  So I started incorporating the signs I knew while reading books and singing songs to her.  It seemed to make it more exciting for her, and it helped me really learn the signs and get into the habit of using them.

For several months Cora watched the first episode daily.  Around 12 months old, she got a few more and we put them into rotation.  Although at first I was concerned about overwhelming her with too many signs, I began exposing her to a variety of videos and signs.  It seemed that she was quietly taking it all in, like any child does as they begin to absorb and learn language.  Language learning is not done in just a few words at a time, even though that may be all a child is capable of expressing.  I felt that she needed to be exposed to a rich variety of signs and vocabulary and that eventually it would pay off.  She was getting lots of input, but we still made an effort to focus intently on specific signs for a couple/few weeks at a time.

Eventually she began to show us what she was learning.

She began to sign at about 13 or 14 months.  She used just a few signs for several months, (milk,eat, more, Daddy, all done).  And then suddenly, she began to show me that she knew many more.  She'd  often debut 5 or more new signs a day.  They really had been sinking in all along.

Right now we have 17 Signing Time videos, and check more out from the libraries. (A great idea if you're not ready to buy.)  Cora loves them all.  She signs along to them, and usually knows what sign Rachel will show her next.  She signs along to the songs and translates what she hears into signs all day long.  She signs about what she sees, what she hears, what she thinks and remembers, and what she wants. 

Although my recent estimates put her vocabulary at over 500 signs, she continues to learn more all the time.  To supplement her Signing Time addiction, we look up new words on Signing Savvy. She is starting to string together word after word after word, in long random and excited sentences, leaving her mama (typically fairly good at interpreting her) in a confused haze some of the time.

I admit that her fine motor isn't perfect and that a lot of her signs look alike.  There is still some guessing involved.  And even though she has the tools to communicate with me pretty well, some times that's just not what happens.  It can sometimes take effort to draw out meaningful communication.

But she is communicating.  And that's a big deal for a girl whose speech is coming along fairly slowly.  She is beginning to use her word approximations with signs and to vocalize more and more.  And I know that one day, as she gets better at communicating with spoken language, she will likely start to use signs less and less.

I know that for many parents of children who do have or who are likely to have speech delays, signing can seem daunting.  It's hard to know how to start, and many kids aren't immediately enthusiastic about it.  For some children who are really movement-driven, getting them to sit down long enough to watch a video is a challenge. (Watching DVDs in the car can make for a captive audience.)  There can definitely be some hurdles.  We were lucky that Cora has been so interested and I am sure that is why she has taken to it so well.  But I am seeing really good progress in kids that weren't nearly as interested, even as their parents have relaxed their pace to reflect their child's motivation.  Sometimes it takes a while for our kids to show us what they have learned, but they are learning all the same.

From my perspective, teaching my daughter and my family to sign has been one of the best decisions we have made so far.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Believe!

"It is all very simple. Just believe."  These are the words from the mama of a lovely young woman with Down syndrome who has surpassed so many of her early expectations.  

Reading her words, I was struck again by something that I found so powerful just a few short months ago:

"Your hopes must be bigger than your fears."

Hopes don't have to be outlined into specific skill-sets.  Dreams don't have to be so specific that you will shatter if every detail is not realized.

Believing in your child is a simple thing.  A powerful thing.  The truest expression of our absolute love.

And that, I can do.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Great Expectations

My friend Michelle spoke today about goals and expectations for her amazing little girl Hailey.  She talked about how she is learning not to underestimate her daughter.  Hailey is adorable and spunky, a true little hurricane who is doing some exciting things.

It can be so hard to know what and how much to expect of our children, those with disabilities and those without.  Raising our expectations too high can lead to disappointment and children that may never feel able to measure up.  Putting so much emphasis on achievement can take away the importance of the process, the learning and the little steps; things which can often be more valuable than the end result.  When all that we value is material success and ivy league educations, where do the rest of us fit in? 

But we also know that expecting too little can lead to... well, too little.  When society didn't believe children with Ds capable of learning, they weren't given the opportunities for education.  When our society didn't believe them capable of integrating into society, they were locked away, and worse.  So expectations have to rise... don't they?

We know that by raising our expectations of people with Down syndrome and cognitive disabilities, we are finding people again and again rising to meet them.

On a personal day-to-day level, managing expectations is hard, too.  Sometimes the waiting, waiting, waiting for the slowest of progress keeps you questioning expectations.  Some are reasonable.  I know she will walk, even though it seems to be taking forever.

But there are other questions that are legitimate.  Like will she ever use speech as her primary communication?  There is a chance that she won't.  Will she ever go to college or get married?  Will she ever live on her own and manage money?  I really don't know.  Does creating these expectations put too much on us both?  I am hesitant to expect her to do these things, because I want it to be OK if she doesn't.  But I also don't want to limit her by putting my expectations too low.  

As my husband says, removing expectation is the way to go.  But is that really possible?  And if I stop expecting Cora to speak, to read, to communicate, to develop independence and pursue her own interests, will I stop supporting her growth in those areas? 

Or am I just over-thinking it way too much?  Either way, she is growing and developing.  Even when it seems so slow that I can't see it.  I can question these things all the live-long day, but I'm not sure if it really even matters.  The one expectation I can't seem to question is that she'll be amazing.  And there is no doubt that I believe in that.

Chill out, Mama!

Monday, July 22, 2013

3 (21) Down Syndrome Blog Hop!

One Truth:

As much as I ADORE my little girl, there are times when it feels like it all sucks.  Periodic twinges of pain when I feel sad about the things that she is not doing yet, and may never do.  Days when all the appointments and worries and stresses feel overwhelming.  Days when I just want to talk about it all without feeling like it means that I don't love her through and through.

These moments don't make me a bad parent, and don't diminish my love for Cora.  They just make me human.

One Tip:

Don't underestimate your child's intelligence.  A cognitive disability or limited verbal communication does not mean that your child is not smart. 

Assume that your child can understand you.  Especially when it comes to ice cream.  Assume that your child understands everything about ice cream, including signs, finger spelling, and all of the code you will come up with.  Children seem to come equipped with a radar for these things.  At least mine does.

One Photo:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Move your Body!

Cora has been loving this summer.  We've been spending many hours at the park, where she has been climbing and swinging, sliding and walking (with assistance).  It's been a blast.

Today we got to go the very cool park by Grammie's house. 

Cora brought her new favorite thing:  her ybike!  She's recently discovered the joys of riding it, but hasn't ridden it outside much, until now.  What an amazing thing, to have her "running" along beside us, upright and without holding onto our hands.  Most of the time she rides by standing up and running along, although she can sit when she gets tired.  It's really great practice.  I think I'm getting a taste of what it feels like to have a truly mobile, quick little toddler. 

The platform swing was pretty exciting too... with good core-stability practice too!

Cora practiced her cruising skills along the rope net to get to her Grammie.  Look at her go!

Then Grammie helped her do some rope walking.

And don't forget about making some beautiful music.

What a gorgeous morning at the park! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

A New Baby Cousin

The festive long weekend was pretty mellow.  We traveled to visit Nick's sister and meet her new three-week-old baby girl, Miss Adelyn.

And oh, what a sweet baby girl she is.

Cora had a much better time than she has around babies in the past.  She was curious and interested, and spent a lot of time watching her new cousin, smiling at her new cousin, and even gave her a couple little kisses.

Not too sure about having her up close at first.

Getting closer to check her out....

Thinking of giving her cousin another kiss goodbye.  But no kisses for crying babies.

Instead of fireworks and parties, we took walks to the park, listened to some live music, and got in our snuggles with the squishy little miss.

Uncle Nick getting some time with his new niece.

We are so excited for the newest addition to our family, and are so happy for the new parents. 

It makes me so happy to see Cora as the big girl, a big cousin.  We can't wait to see little Adelyn again.

"Bye, Baby Addy!"