Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Oh the joys of baby sign language

My 19 month old daughter knows two languages - English and Sign. 

She has no hearing impairment or sensory delays of any kind (well ok, she has a cataract, but for the point of the story she's in A1 sensory condition)! She doesn't appear to show any symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, of developmental difficulties or speech impediments - but she does sign anyway!

I first found out about baby sign as a student music therapist at Ipswich Special School, Qld. I was amazed at how so many children with so many varied set of symptoms and characteristics were all able to communicate through this one beautiful channel! Since then I've tried to use sign with all the 0-4's I've had the pleasure of making music with. 

I've always thought "they probably don't even realise I'm doing anything" - a shake of the thumb as I say we're 'finished' with the instruments, a tap to the chin when I thank them and a policeman's hand up when we 'stop' - nothing that really stands out. But that was until I started using sign with my Maple - and then I realised that EVERY SINGLE HAND GESTURE THAT GOES WITH A WORD IS BEING PROCESSED!! Even after all those years of using sign I was astounded when I realised just how powerful a communication tool it actually is. 

It all started when, at 12 months, I decided to see if I could work out if Maple was actually 'finished' with her milk or if she was just playing that 'on/off/on/off game' with me. I asked "Maple are you finished?" and shook my thumb from side to side as I said it. Nothing. But at the VERY NEXT FEED - she looked up after 10 minutes, shook her thumb from side to side and moved away. From that day on 'finished' has been her keyword - she will tell me when she's finished with her milk, finished in the bath, finished her food, her book, her cuddle, even (yes I'm guilty of it) my ipad - she'll actually give it back after 5 minutes and tell me she's 'finished'. It's a beautiful thing to watch a toddler using signs in context and demonstrating total comprehension of what the words actually mean before they can speak them.

Makaton is the sign program I was first introduced to and is what I generally base my sign style on. Makaton is a language program which uses signs, words and symbols to encourage language development in those with communication difficulties. The program is divided into stages with the initial stages incorporating the most basic and common words such as Mummy, Daddy, bed, drink, food, toilet, please, thankyou etc... and the subsequent stages introducing more complex concepts and phrases. The signs are derived from AUSLAN (in Australia that is) as this is the cultural language of our deaf community. The word is always spoken when the sign is used and the pictorial symbols are helpful when working with children with more complicated communication delays.

I don't use symbols and I only really use signs from the first couple of stages of the program - these seem to give us enough of a basis in the language to be able to sign our general day-to-day needs. We also make up our own signs - funny ones that pertain to our own 'family language' and Maple has adapted some of the ones we've shown her which we've then taken on.

Sign language encourages eye contact, physical contact, non-verbal expression, verbal expression, fine and gross motor skills, positive neural development, cognitive involvement, social interaction and inclusion, facial expression and much, much more.

I love the idea that even though I only speak English I still have a second language - I love the idea that one day Maple might be able to communicate with children who a lot of other children can't communicate with and I love the idea that when I use signs at work other children, parents and educators are, often unbeknownst to them, processing a new language.

And I totally love it when Maple signs 'I love you Mummy'  - ahhh... melts the heart :)

My baby sign language workshop is available as a skype session for only $80 so contact me today!

Come to one of my baby sign workshops and learn so much more!

These folks have some great resources to help you get started on your sign journey
You can also find them on facey of course!

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