Monday, March 28, 2016

Sign It Right

And now for some good news.  

Ronan signed cat correctly today.  For years, and I mean y-e-a-r-s, he’s signed cat with only one hand and on the top of his head.  Cat is signed with two hands and on the cheeks. 
Ronan's little brother signs cat.
With his poor motor planning and delayed fine motor skills, several of the signs Ronan uses daily, like cat as it is one of his favorite words, fall under the RSL model (Ronan Sign Language) rather than American Sign Language model (ASL).  As long as you know Ronan, you know his signs.  If you don’t know him and he signs something to you, you might be left scratching your head….which is what the RSL version of the cat sign usually looks like.

It’s heartbreaking to see Ronan trying desperately to communicate a word, a phrase, and even a sentence with signs that only he understands.  Those closest to Ronan know what he’s saying with his signs, but we always encourage the ASL form.  While saying the word he is signing and while signing back to him the exact ASL sign, we hope that our modeling will remind him of the correct form.  I’m so glad that today, after years and years and years, of doing his own version of cat, that he remembered the correct version.  Maybe he’ll begin to correct his other RSL signs as well.  

Since the siblings are home this week on their Easter break, I'm going to ask them to work with me to model the signs Ronan has struggled to form correctly.  They don't get to sign with Ronan as much as before, but they know how important it is to practice signing.  If they don't use it, they do lose it.  I wrote about how those super siblings have helped encourage Ronan to communicate in the past and can't wait to show them my first “in print” article again.  
Look at how little they were!Issue 34 - 2010
I was thrilled to share our family’s experience and the photos of the kids in the hopes that it could help other families when I wrote that article.  Now, when people ask me for help with sign language, especially when it's another family with a child with non-verbal autism, I share a list of books, files, and websites.  My sign language “bible” has always been The Joy of Signing.  I have had this book since 1994.  That’s when I took my first formal signing class.  I’d just graduated college and landed my first teaching job.  I took the class for fun with a friend but also thought that taking the class could help me if I ever taught a child who was hard of hearing.  I never taught a child who was hard of hearing, but that sign language class has been invaluable.  That's because, 22 years later, I'm still using sign language daily.  

For those who’d like to explore sign, either out of curiosity or because they need to learn it in order to communicate with someone who signs, my first suggestion is to take a class.  Online courses are a good start, but being in a setting where your new skills can be put to the test with instant feedback from someone live and in person is beneficial.  Classroom setting, as well as opportunities to go out into the deaf community or to participate with hearing groups who sign, are also great ways to learn the language.  For that type of instruction, I'd suggest checking out your local community college or a disability resource center to see what they offer.  A local special needs parent group may also be able to recommend a course or a teacher, too.  

Some groups and organizations may have lending libraries where you can check out signing books and materials.  The local public library could also have resources to check out as well.  Books and signing materials that I like have come from the following groups*:  IDRT, Garlic Press, Lifeprint, and Signing Time.  We have books, flash cards, games, CDs, DVDs, computer programs and are so grateful to have the material at our fingertips.  Using those while also fully immersing our entire family in sign language years ago changed our lives.  It changed our lives for the better.  

I could never predict that I’d be signing with my own hearing child, but I do.  Ronan can hear everything we are saying; he just can't talk yet.  I pray that he one day will, but until he does, I encourage him to sign what he wants, what he needs, and what he is thinking.  His siblings do a great job of encouraging him to do all of that, too.  
xo, Cat

*I have not been paid to endorse any one of the companies mentioned; I'm sharing that I've bought or used their products to help encourage my son to sign.

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