When Ollie was
re-diagnosed with hearing loss at 6 months old (see our hearing loss story for more information), I remember there being SO MANY options!
Will we sign using ASL or pigeon sign? Will we sign exact english (S.E.E.)? Will we use cued speech? Will he get cochlear implants? Will he be a good at lip reading?
There were so many options and I had so much fear when it came to making the right decision. Thankfully, that fear was short lived because my teacher of the deaf (TOD) gave me some great advice.
“Give him language. Give him all of the language you can and see what he chooses,” she said. This is considered “total communication.”
So we did. And that wasn’t too hard at first, considering he couldn’t hear anything at all. Ollie is severe-profoundly deaf in both ears. The best hearing aids gave him nothing and he was implanted after 1 years old. So for the first 8 months of his life, we relied on sign language.
And what a gift that was! As we learned with our TOD, she gave us helpful pointers on how to communicate. She gently scolded me for being too nice with my face while I told my son ‘no.’ She said that if I meant “no!,” my face had to mean it as well. We are not unlike most parents in that, eyebrows speak louder than words. All of my children (hearing and deaf!) know that I mean business when it comes to what my oldest son calls my ‘serious face’.
If you haven’t heard of “Signing Time” I strongly suggest you check it out. I’ve included the link at the bottom of this post. Signing Time teaches everyone how to sign! It’s geared towards toddlers with songs and games. It’s adorable and the songs will get stuck in your head, which is NOT adorable! But it’s an incredible tool for people just beginning to use sign language. All of Ollie’s grandparents have rented these DVD’s from the library to watch on their own in order to learn his language. It teaches at an elementary level that all can learn from.
One thing to understand about sign language is that it varies from region to region. So some of the stuff that you’ll learn from Alex, Leah, and Hopkins 😉 will be different from where you live. However, with that being said, most of the signs are the same and if they are different, teachers of the deaf and Deaf people themselves, will usually know what you’re talking about and you can communicate through it.
In our home we use some signs that I have to notify Ollie’s interpreter about. He signs things differently and that’s ok! I taught him how to sign “chip”, like the ones you eat…totally wrong on accident! And it has stuck. We sign chip like nobody’s business. It’s supposed to be this cute little strike off your pointer finger. We accidentally changed it to this huge, joyful, swinging arm, crazy motion that is SO. INTENSE. But it’s awesome and I love our ‘home sign’ for chip 🙂
The most important thing to know is that deaf and hard of hearing kids need LANGUAGE!!!! Research shows that the brain develops the language center within the first few years of life. The brain does not differentiate between ASL, visual language, spanish, english, etc. Language is language!
Our kiddos have an opportunity to soak up language in these first few formative years so it’s critical that they get input at that time!
And the best part about it, it’s do-able!
Whether you choose to learn sign language from youtube (visit my ASL youtube links!), Signing Time, a TOD, or a friend who happens to know sign language- it doesn’t matter! Your child will begin to understand it the more you sign to them. It might feel awkward at first and that’s ok 🙂 I remember feeling like I didn’t want to sign in public because people will stare at me. What I’ve found, is that people tend to stare because they’re interested and because it’s beautiful. I have yet to meet someone that gives me negative feedback for signing with my child.
You will be pleased as punch when you see your child sign back at you for the first time. It’s the most adorable, satisfying feeling in the entire world to realize that you and your kid now have something to talk about. And you gave them that gift.
You gave them language. And with language, they can connect with the world.