There is a large sign-language training program in Tucson, Arizona. I know this because in the year that I lived in that town, people would practically pee in their pants when they saw my ginormous hearing aids. They'd start to sign furiously. They refused to talk to me unless I was looking directly at them.
It was pretty annoying.
Then when I started my UC Berkeley sojourn, I hit it again. Oh! You're deaf! And then a frenzy of hand motions followed. It reminded me of Chris Rock speaking Chinese while doing "karate", some flurry of something coupled with a lot of mismatched mouth movement.
I'd smile politely…wait…. nod….wait while they hand-flurry-smurried….smile politely a bit more….wait… smiled a bit more tightly, a tad more brightly, raising my eyebrows: all right? You done with that now? Because I don't sign. No, really. I don't. I don't sign. No, stop it. Just stop it already.
And sure, a big fat chunk of that was my being able and willing and ready to be a part of my own D/deaf culture. Accept my people, claim them. And let them accept me, hopefully claim me back. When the time came and I was ready, I took a class at the local Community College and it was beyond brilliant. I adored it. And swiftly thereafter was unable to continue as I went and got myself pregnant, married and all the rest of it.
Fast forward two years. I had a typically-developing son who at 20 months wasn't doing much more than voicing profound grunts. And I found out that the baby I was carrying, Moxie, would be coming with an extra chromosome. On the heels of that news, I found out that kids with Down syndrome apparently take to signing like ducks to water so I thought, all right. We are going to do it. We, as a family, are going to learn how to sign.
Then and there, 6 months pregnant, I took Micah and waddled on over to the public library. Borrowed every last video on sign language learning they had, watched them and just about passed out from the sheer boredom of it all. It knocked me out faster than an episode of Super Why!. Boooooo-ring does not capture the near-exquisite ache of sheer misery those programs put my woebegone self through.
Wretched, I reached for the last remaining DVD we had to wade through, one rather cheerfully entitled, "Signing Time", "great…just great", I thought, wearily and warily looking at the cover featuring a bright and perky lady in an orange sweater and – what, bandaids on her fingers? – Bleh.
And then…(drumroll)...the song floated through – "there's singing time, there's playing time…", "signing time with Alex and Leah…" and it all stuck to the treacly parts of my brain like jam on bread (or Christmas carols and a mall). I liked it! And more, MICAH did too! Woo-hoo!
Micah watched a few episodes of Signing Time and all of the sudden, he was signing over 50 words. He shot off and we were struggling to keep up with him. He couldn't get enough of it. Or of Rachel Coleman. He signed and signed and signed some more until everything clicked together in the magical way it does with children and he just started to talk.
Moxie is 18 month old now. She signs milk, more, finished, play, eat. I am not worried in the slightest about her communication, nor of the future she faces with communication. She signs and that's just perfect. If and when she talks, we'll focus on helping her speech unfold as gorgeously and gloriously as we can. But you know what? I can wait. And I am fine with it not happening at all, too. Nonverbal signers are wonderful communicators and really, that's all I want: to be able to communicate with my precious girl.
I want to be able to know when she wants some milk
Or a snack
However that happens.
It is intensely ironic to me that having my daughter has helped me to learn to converse with my own D/deaf tribe. It's ironic to me that I also am unafraid of my own future and possible complete hearing loss, thanks to my daughter and the gift of sign language. It is ironic to me that it took Moxie's coming to actually give Micah the tools he needed at the time to communicate.
And it was Signing Time that did it: that genius program that blends the catchiest of all tunes with beguiling children and an effervescently Poppins-esque teacher: Rachel.
(the above was originally posted on Nov 21, 2011 – Moxie is now 2 and a half years old! And signs even more!)
In this Month of Moxie – celebrating Down syndrome Awareness, our Signing Time Awareness Champions will be giving away 2 copies of Family, Feelings and Fun + the Digital Guide to Using Signing Time with Children who have Down syndrome.
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I was not paid for this post nor have I received anything for it. All opinions expressed are purely my own.
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Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.