As a young child when I spoke my first word there was many cheers and excitement and by the time I was 18mths old I could speak over 50 words much to the amazement of my parents and professionals and was even put in the papers nicknamed "chatterbox" ! What was the big deal I see you thinking as all children go through this...the difference was that I was born profoundly deaf and my parents told that I would probably not speak well and to teach sign language...my parents were determined to prove them wrong and dedicated all their time in talking to me, ensuring eye contact at all times, wearing hearing aids as they were sure I could speak eventually...their hard work paid off and now I can speak fluently like many hearing people...in fact many don't realise that I am deaf until I tell them.
I grew up in the hearing world, and being able to speak well helped a lot but it was still hard...I didn't know sign language as my parents wanted me to learn communication via speech first so I only learned to finger spell when I was 6 yrs old so that I could communicate more easily with my great grandmother who was deaf...as the years passed it became apparent that I was struggling in the hearing environment so it was agreed that I would go to boarding school for the deaf and the school my parents chose was very focused on oral communication with no sign language. Ironically after my first term there when I got off the plane and met my parents I was signing away all happy, talking about school life and I noticed my parents standing there with a look of amazement on their faces...they couldn't believe how much sign language I had leant in such a short time, they asked me how I had learned it and I told them that all my friends had taught me daily all the different signs and that we often did it after school despite the staff complaining at us to use our voices! They weren't bothered, just happy that I was happy and as long as I used my speech alongside signing all was great.
When my eldest was born, I vowed to teach him sign language as I wanted him to experience the deaf culture side of myself and my husband...by the time he was a year old he could sign milk, hungry, drink, bed, and many more...I was met with disapproval by several people who said I was hindering his speech but it was the opposite and by the age of two he was fluent in both speech and signing. By the time my second came along I was confident in following the same path as I did with his brother and sure enough he was signing the simple signs by a year old...by the time he was 2 & half yrs old he was very fluent in sign language, much more than his older brother and he could say our names but other than that he never spoke, preferring to communicate through signs which I encouraged much to the disapproval of my health visitor who insisted that I stopped signing and wanted him referred to speech therapy ...I put my foot down and said that he was happy to sign so I would continue with that and that he didn't need speech therapy at that moment in time as he was still young...sure enough a few months later he just suddenly started talking and it wasn't one words but several words strung together in a sentence...many remarked on how well he spoke and couldn't believe signing hadn't affected his speech esp the health visitor who was shocked and I never heard from her again! By teaching my boys to sign first stopped them going through the frustration stage that many children go through in trying to communicate what they want.
When Roo came along I planned to do the same but unfortunately Roo journey took a different path from his brothers...but I persevered over the years in the hope that one day he would be able to communicate in sign language if his speech didn't progress...last year he learned a few signs as you can read on an earlier post but he lost the ability to remember and do the signs a few months later.... Now the past month at 3yrs old he is relearning the signs and is actually remembering them which is fantastic! Also his speech is starting to progress...although he is still non verbal as babbles and makes noises majority of time he has recently learned to say words though they are not full words like for example " happy birthday" in his words would be " aahayy aah day" but in perfect rhythm of the word so you could work out what he was trying to say...he also learned to say "daddy" again ( he could say it over a year ago then lost the ability) and the past two weeks he has started to say the most magical word that every mother longs to hear "mummy" although he does tend to use it for other things and calling my husband "mummy" he still needs to learn to associate the words with the object but I don't mind as all I care about is that he can say it!!!
Also his signing is making progress as he is starting to copy the signs and is showing more interest in trying the signs, it's slow progress but we are getting there. My only worry is that he may get confused with the fact my husband and I use BSL (British Sign Language) /SSE (signed supported English) and the sn unit he goes to use Sign Along/makaton . The signs are very very similar and some are actually the same but the are several signs that mean completely different things and for a child with a learning disability how does one know how much he understands? Is having to different methods of signs hindering his ability to learn to sign? In past we have been told by SALT to not use our form of sign language as it would be "misleading" and to only teach him the signs that they use but what is the point when we end up using completely different sign at home as it's what we've always known as it's our language and should be respected. Maybe I'm being selfish to insist on using our own signs and should be focusing on the signs that the school uses but at the same time I don't want to learn a different sign language, I want my own one that I grew up with, it's a part of my deaf culture and it's what we use in our everyday lives so it makes sense to teach Roo BSL but I wonder if it's the right decision? We have yet to meet his current SALT who works at his school as she has been busy but once it's been arranged I will have quite a few questions to ask her on this subject so be interesting to see what her view is on it...