Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Too Much

I had an interesting conversation today regarding signing with a child.

Let me say this straight out: I believe teaching the Dancing Queen American Sign Language was one of the very best decisions I have ever made. Purchasing the Signing Time Videos was one of the best purchases ever. Hands down, no question, our lives all got easier when DQ learned to sign. We saw the lightbulb go off in her head the very first time we popped in "It's Baby Signing Time". (We had tried signing with her before the video, but for her, music was the key.  Not surprising from my music-centered kid.)  At 18 months, she went from being a frustrated toddler (even though she wasn't toddling yet) to being able to communicate her wants and needs to us in an intelligible manner. The change was remarkable.

At 2 years old, she was evaluated by her speech therapist with the verbal ability of a nine month old, but she could sign and was communicating.  At that time, when we were struggling to keep DQ alive, we were just happy she could tell us what was happening and what she wanted or needed. 

And in the last year, DQ's vocabulary exploded. She went from basically non-verbal to completely verbal almost over night. Her growth was remarkable. I attribute most of that to the signing. Even though DQ wasn't verbal, we still treated as if she was. We taught her manners. We talked to her as we would any child her age. Instead of only verbal though, we used signs as well. For instance, if DQ were to belch, she was instructed to say "excuse me" and sign it. Well, she couldn't verbalize, but she could sign. Signing was never done as an alternative to verbal speech, but as an additional tool that worked.  As of DQ's last speech evaluation two months ago, she was verbally speaking over age level. It is a remarkable achievement that I think was aided by signing.

Today, I was part of a discussion in which a speech therapist told a worried mom that it would be wrong for her to teach her non-verbal child sign language because it would prevent the absolute earliest possible verbal speech. I can't argue with that. I don't have any idea if DQ would have verbalized earlier if she hadn't signed, but I do take issue with the idea that the goal should be to have the absolute earliest verbal speech.

At what cost to the family and the child should anyone suggest that obtaining the earliest verbal speech possible is the only goal? I know in my family, DQ wasn't about to start verbalizing any time soon. Changing therapy techniques may have worked, but not as quickly as signing. DQ needed her hearing fixed to be able to take that next step. Beyond that, she had to figure out how to work her mouth. She simply didn't do that well (for speech or eating or drinking!) If we had waited for only verbal speech, DQ would have been frustrated and screaming more for much longer. That would have added strain to our family at a time when we were beyond stressed because she was facing so many other life-threatening issues.

Isn't it too much when a therapist/doctor/specialist takes their own specialist interest and makes it the only goal? I find it completely irresponsible for a speech therapist to tell a worried mother of a non-verbal child that signing was a bad choice without taking into consideration the full picture. What are your thoughts?


  1. I think you are 100% correct. When a child is not able to become verbal (for whatever reason)at what is considered a "normal" time on the continuum, then effective communication should be the first goal. You can work on speech at the same time. Even if signing delays it some, so what? The child is already delayed and frustrated. Fixing the frustration should be job one, then figuring out how to remedy the speech issue.

    I also think a speech therapist should know that parents will be looking for his/her input and advice, and they should put parents at ease and help them understand that in the big picture being verbal a few months later is not really important in the big picture - communication is.

    Good for you for doing what you felt was best for your child. It's hard to do when everyone has their own opinions.

  2. My youngest was non-verbal until just before he turned three. Well, I guess that depends on how you look at it. He started speaking what I called "Joseph-ese" very early. But he had no interest in speaking the english language. I guess he just figured I should learn his language instead. He understood me, but I couldn't understand him. Since he had a lot of the more "classic" signs of autism, I jumped right in with the sign language. And I think it helped that he could finally communicate with me. When he started "speaking" it was like the flood gates opened. I don't think sign language delayed him in any way, and I think that parents should use anything they can to be able to "talk" to their kids. Better sign language than no language!

  3. I think you did a wonderful thing for DQ...you gave her a voice. I don't think any Speech Therapist should tell you that it is not a good idea to sign...Hope's Speech Therapist encourages signing and we have been learning it together. It is irresponsible on her part...in my opinion...to not allow a child a voice.


Having a child with a CHD is like being given an extra sense---the true ability to appreciate life. Each breath, each hug, each meal is a blessing when you've watched your child live off a ventilator, trapped in an ICU bed, being fed through a tube. Each minute is a miracle when you've watched your child almost die and come back to you.
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