Sunday, July 27, 2014

Magic hands: Signing and other kinds of communication fun

James loves his therapists. He smiles and laughs when they come, and then does his very best to charm them into smiling and laughing the entire therapy session. When that doesn’t work, he turns to fake crying, and then sometimes he’ll work himself up enough that it turns into real crying. He does his best to convince them that it’s really much better if we all sit, talk, sing, and laugh together…who really needs to crawl or walk anyway?? Thankfully, these very smart and kind women are also tough. J

Speech is a different crawling or walking here! This is his time to shine. His speech therapist walks in, and he gets his hands ready to show off all that he’s been practicing throughout the week. He watches her hands like it’s magic.

Once James got his first couple of signs down, you could see the wheels turning in his head as he began to watch his hands and play around with different gestures.  

“I can tell people to DO things for me with these!!”

While it might take James a little bit longer to have the oral motor control and coordination to produce words, signing allows our family to communicate and for James to request things or simply show that he recognizes what’s around him.  And it's so fun!

After lots of modeling and practice, it's awesome to watch him first imitate the gesture, then do the sign when he simply hears the word, and finally spontaneously sign if he’s making a request, which shows that he really understands the concept.

James now uses "eat," "more," "dog," "bath," "bubbles," "fish," "ball," "milk," "wind," "car," "all done," "book," "open," "up," "hi," "bye," "wash hands," "potty," "banana," and "baby."

Here are a couple of my favorite sign stories:

Fish- James’ speech therapist wanted us to practice the “fish” sign with goldfish crackers.  The sign for “fish” is simply making your hand swim like a fish.  Once we gave him one, and he experienced the salty, cheesy goodness, he very frantically pulled out every sign in his repertoire and some that he made up trying to request more fish until he figured out how to do it. This was also the same week he started army crawling to get to the goldfish.  Oh, how the right motivator makes all of the difference.


All done-  When we first taught James “all done," we just raised our arms in the air, since it was an easier gesture to do.  We also modeled waving our arms back and forth, like an umpire saying “safe.” When he started to get the hang of the signs, we were transitioning him from the simple arms up to the umpire “all done.”  

During this period of time, he went to his music class one day when his buddy was absent, and class just wasn’t as exciting. In the middle of one of the songs, I saw him raise up those chubby little arms and wait for everyone to stop.  When that didn’t seem to work, he remembered there was a second way to do "all done" and started waving them back and forth.  We get it, James. J

Alllllll done!

Banana- The official sign for “banana” is pretty tricky.  You hold up your pointer finger and then with the other hand, pretend like you’re peeling it, just like a banana.  We modeled this a few times, but didn’t expect James to jump on it just yet.

But we also love to make up random songs, and songs about bananas are no exception.  To the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie, I sang, “Banana! Banana! I love you, banana! I love you so much today” complete with big Broadway arms at the end.  James loved this simple song and would join in on the big Broadway finish with those little arms.  One time while singing, he was in the middle of eating a piece of banana and quickly shoved it into his mouth, so he could lift up his arm without skipping a beat. My boy.

Until we're able to pretend like we're peeling a banana (or even better, say banana!), this will do just fine.

Our accidental, made-up sign for banana!

While we work on signs, we’re also working on our sound imitation and practicing words, too. James knows that the cow goes, “moo” although it’s more like a ghost cow with “boo.” I hope the cow always says, “boo.”  He also knows the monkey goes “oo, oo, ahh, ahh!”

He still says, “ahh daa” for “all done,” and he’s just recently been having fun pulling hair (most especially, his three-year-old cousin's beautiful hair) and then saying “ow.” Little stinker..we’re working on it.

Bonus resources!

Baby Signing Time—We LOVE our Baby Signing Time DVDs despite the songs being stuck in our heads all the day long.  We get to learn so many new signs right along with James and practice them throughout the day.

See and Learn flashcards—These are super helpful in practicing sounds and words! Individuals with Down Syndrome typically have a stronger visual memory than auditory memory, so the program with the cards takes a multi-sensory approach and includes the visual cues while working on sound production. 

They’re also fun to wave around.  

And they’re delicious. J

Thanks for reading!

Mom, stop taking pictures of me for your silly blog!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Little Blurb on Language (Down Syndrome and Special Needs)

I would like to think I’m pretty open to what people say, especially when they are trying to be helpful, knowing that everyone has varying experiences.  But there are two words or phrases to avoid like the plague in regard to Down Syndrome and individuals with special needs.  

      1.     The r-word—I don’t know anyone personally and pray to never know someone who would use that word purposefully to refer to my son or any of my other dear family members or friends who happen to have an intellectual or other “dis”ability.  But well-meaning people still use that word casually to refer to something that they think is bad, wrong, or dumb. People may not mean it this way, but it’s hurtful every time. If you’re in the habit of using that word, there are so many other options in the English language. Please choose a new one.

      2.     “Down’s child or down’s baby”- This is one I was not really aware of before having our son, but special educators, therapists, parents, and others who regularly work with kids with special needs taught me well.  When you say “down’s child” or “disabled person” it takes away that child’s or person’s identity and prioritizes the label.  Think about the difference between saying “Gabriella, an autistic child” and “Gabriella, a child who has autism.”  In the first description, it’s hard to look past the autistic label to see Gabriella for who she is.  In the second, autism is still there, but it doesn’t overpower Gabriella.  The difference may seem small, but these small nuances of language make an enormous difference on how we see and treat people. James may have Down Syndrome, but he’s not Down Syndrome James.  People-first language—it’s a beautiful thing.

While on the topic of language, there are a billion posts and articles about what to say or what not to say to a parent who is expecting or has a child with Down Syndrome.  These sorts of lists can be really helpful to someone, like me, who is generally pretty awkward and easily freezes while worried about saying the wrong thing in a new situation.  But everyone has their own story and journey and something that could be offensive to one person might actually bring comfort to another.

One of the best things anyone did for us when we were expecting James (and still does for us now) was just ask how we were doing and how James was doing.  This check-in opens up the conversation the way the parent might like it to go. You can find out pretty quickly if parents want to engage or not.  Most of the time, you find that parents want to talk and share their experiences, trials, and their joys just like anyone else would.

I still remember a couple of months after James was a born, a good friend just touched my arm and asked, “how are you doing with everything?” No blanket statements about children with Down Syndrome or about how special children get special parents…just checking in. I will always remember that. Not just for parents with children who have special needs, but parents and people in general.  The new sleep-deprived mom or dad with the colicky baby most likely appreciates a genuine “how are you doing?” more than the “The time goes by so fast..enjoy every moment” bit.

But be prepared--the “how are you” also gives parents a chance to brag shamelessly about their little ones. You’ve been warned ;)

Here’s mine!