Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Using Signing to Enforce Verbal Language

One of my biggest fears about going through speech therapy was that the therapists were going to recommend that we stop signing with Jonah. This might seem logical to some, and as I posted previously, it is the unsolicited advice that I get from fellow mothers quite a bit. But knowing what I know about how language is formed, I strongly (VERY strongly) believe that this would actually hinder Jonah's speech. It would actually make him a lot more frustrated with language and take away the ONLY connections that he has between his actions and communicating what he is thinking or needs.

I discussed this with the speech pathologist last week. We talked about my fears of following the advice that so many have given me, and we talked about keeping signing as part of our language and speech therapy. She completely agreed with me, and uses signs to communicate with Jonah throughout the group therapy.

But there is still the conundrum of how to turn these actions into verbal words. While I'm happy that Jonah can communicate to me, it really would be better if he could vocalize his thoughts and needs.

The speech pathologist suggested that we encourage him to vocalize while he signs. It doesn't have to be an actual word or a whole word, but just some kind of vocalization so that he understands the connection between saying something, and the meaning of the sign that he is producing.

This is how we are encouraging that vocalization. When Jonah produces a sign for something he wants, let's say his milk, we pick up the milk and emphasize "This is MMMMiiilk! Tell mommy you want your mmmmmiiilk!" and then give it to him. The first time he makes any vocalization at all, whether it is just "mmmm" or "aaaah!" or any noise at all, we praise him, repeat the sound back to him, an give him the milk saying "mmmmmiiiilk." After that first time that we hear him vocalize during the sign, we raise the expectation of him to hear that vocalization any time he signs for milk. If he only does the sign, we are to say "no, I heard you say it before, use your word... mmmiiilk." and wait for him to sign AND vocalize before giving him the milk.

The reason I am using milk as an example, is because this is exactly what we did at lunch today. Jonah gave me the sign for milk, and I asked him "Do you want your mmmmiiiilk?" He looked at me and did the sign again, vocalizing "eeeeehhhh!" Later during the meal, he did the sign again. I said "No, you said mmmiiiilk before, say it again! mmmmmilk!" as I did the sign. He did just the sign again, and I said "no, mmmmmmiilk." and did the sign. This time he did the sign and repeated "eeeeeh!" so I said "Eeeeeh! Yes, mmmmmiiilk!!! Good words! Mmmmmiiilk!"

I am very happy that we are able to come up with a plan for using Jonah's signs to enforce what he already knows about language. I am also relieved that the speech therapists are not only accepting of it, but embracing it as a valuable tool for Jonah.

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