Friday, August 15, 2014

Parlez-Vous?

From the time my children were born, we used sign language with them. Actually, we started learning sign language before they were born. When we found out we were pregnant with triplets, I immediately looked up how to begin learning ASL. I was so afraid I'd have three screaming infants on my hands, and I knew they would be able to communicate long before they could actually articulate with words. So I dove into Signing Time. My then 10 year old
stepson and I watched it frequently, bragging to my husband what we had learned, and egging him on to join us. He did eventually. And boy was he glad.

Once they babies arrived, we had a significant period of time where they were hospitalized due to prematurity. They had a laundry list of medical complications, not the least of which included one having a large scale stroke and two of them suffering pulmonary hemorrhages. Thus, we had no idea what would happen when they finally came home.

Fast forward to age two - my son who suffered the stroke had a vocabulary of over 100 signs and over 50 spoken words. I was amazed at what had occurred, and so encouraged, I began teaching them French. I had them watch things in French, like Little Pim, which had a similar
format to Signing Time, and listen to music, but then I had an idea I hoped would work. And it did. I began signing using words they already knew, while speaking in French. I aimed low, only looking to develop their accent and vocabulary. Suddenly, they began spouting out all kinds of things, randomly, at various times of the day. I was incredulous that it worked, and very excited! I began responding to them in French when they asked questions, using directions in French when crossing the street and while eating. The doctors had said that it was possible for new synapses to grow around the brain injury. It seemed that either the language center in his brain had not been damaged, or new pathways grew to accommodate it. Either way, I was thrilled.

My other two children were only slightly behind him, but I was in awe that the despite a traumatic brain injury, he was leading the way in so much of their development. A miracle! I believe strongly in doing things to stimulate brain growth, even if you have not had a TBI. I enjoy languages and music, both of which are known to do this. So we did as much of both as possible with the kids.


I came across Nicola Lathey's and Tracey Blake's book, "Small Talk" more recently. It focuses on developing language in babies up to four years old. It also divides lays out the chronology of language development with age categories divided into chapters, making it easy to start reading at whatever age your child is at the time. What I liked about it is the simplistic mission: to identify where your child's communication is, and encourage the natural stages of language development.

Supporting what I discovered in my own experiment with my children, "Small Talk points out the positive results from the visual cues signing offers to small children who cannot yet speak. I am convinced that had we not used this approach, we would have endured far more crying. And we heard PLENTY. But understanding that crying is a baby's method of communicating helped us remain motivated to sign. Today, my son still signs while talking, and sometimes when he is too tired to speak.

With two of children ultimately diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, we had no way of knowing just how valuable our decision to focus on language would be. Our daughter's CP is mild. But our son had a stroke, and his entire right side was affected more severely.

"The left hemisphere of the brain controls the movement of the right side of the body, plus speech and language. A child who has a stroke on the left side of the brain may have trouble moving the right side of his body and may have difficulty reading or talking." ~ National Stroke Association

Sign encouraged the use of his right hand, which encouraged his brain, which encouraged his oral motor skills. By the time they were three, they could count to 30 in six languages. Today he watches his favorite shows in many different languages. At a theme park visit a year ago, he began mimicking some other visitors in their own language. They turned and began speaking to him and he looked surprised that anyone understood him. Giving a child early language skills allows them to communicate more effectively with you, the parent. I was selfish. I just didn't want three crying babies. I was outnumbered! What it was however, was a gift that made a bigger difference than we knew possible.



** I received a review copy of "Small Talk" to facilitate this feature. **

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