Language Update

Bathtime is the best!

Today marks two months since we arrived back home to the USA.  Ken and I must tell each other 5 times every day that we can't believe they are really here AND we can't imagine life without them in it.

Thrilled that Daddy is home!
Silly face!

Driving a carriage 
Travis' language development still astounds us.  In just two months, he's upwards of 200 words.  I'm trying to keep count, but it's getting more difficult!  He's able to tell us most of the things he wants using ASL.  Just this week, he went up to his dad, tapped him, and told him, "I want to go outside and ride my bike."  After we got him outside to ride his bike, Ken and I talked about the big change from fussing, pulling on us, crying, pointing, and kicking his feet.  How much more calm his soul must be that he know he can simply be understood.  If something happens that we don't understand what he wants, he knows we will take the time to figure it out, then give him the language to communicate it from that time on.

The same goes for Tian.  He's adding a lot of spoken words to his vocabulary, but is signing even more, which is typical of even a hearing kid exposed to signing at his age.

One of both boys' favorite signs is "SOON."  When Ken goes to work (downstairs) or the older kids go out to play, the boys will stand at the top of the stairs signing, "SOON. SOON. SOON."  Recently, when Ken left for a 4-day trip, I was careful NOT to sign "SOON."  Instead, I said, "See Daddy Sunday!"  On Sunday morning, I told them, "SEE DADDY TODAY!! SOON!"

We are often asked how we teach our kids to sign.  Well, it's much like how you teach any child their first language.  In our house, it looks like this:

Travis hops off  his bike and runs to us, pulling at his helmet.  We know he wants his helmet off, but we do not take it off.  If we just took off the helmet, we'd miss a perfect opportunity for language learning!
We sign, "HELMET O-F-F" (The sign for "off" is fingerspelled O-F-F.)
He knows by now he has to sign it, too.  He signs, "HELMET F-F-F-F"  (So cute!)
Yes!!  Then, with lots of smiles, we help him take off his helmet.

The next time he does the same thing.  We also do the same thing, but this time, we correct him, showing him the "O" and he does it clearly. "HELMET O-F-F."

The third time, he rides up and, without ever pulling on his helmet, he just signs, "F-F-F-F"
Yes!!!  We sign "HELMET O-F-F?? OKAY! YES!"
He came up and initiated asking using language!!  It's okay that it wasn't perfect.  He's a toddler and we made sure to model back the correct sign, so he will get it right in a very short time.

Another way we build the boys' vocabulary is by using synonyms of words they already know.  For example, they both quickly understood "yes."  Well, sometimes we need to use words like "okay, fine" or "good" or "you're allowed," but they don't understand that yet.  It looks like this:
The boys are riding bikes on the basketball court, then turn to go down into the grass.  They look back at me with raised eyebrows, wondering, "Is this allowed?"  I sign, "FINE. YES. OKAY. YES."  They will quickly pick up on the fact that "fine" and "okay" are positive statements much like "yes."

I must add, that once we give them a new word, we expect them to use it.  Once they have shown us that they know how to sign it, we will help prompt them, but they aren't allowed to just point and grunt for something they already know.  Sometimes, they (especially Travis) will decide they are mad and not only won't sign, but they won't look at us.  This would be the equivalent to a hearing kid closing their eyes, covering their ears and yelling, "La la la la!"  We hold our ground pretty firmly and either move their face toward us or just patiently wait out the fit.  The absolutely don't get what they want when they do this.

Travis just did this while I was in the middle of this blog.  He woke from his nap unhappy and throwing a bit of a fit.  When I asked him what was wrong, he would just turn his head away and cry more.  I moved into his line of vision and asked again.  "What's wrong?  Do you need a drink?  Food?  Potty?"  His head turned the other way before I could even finish asking "What's wrong?"  I had a feeling he needed to go to the bathroom because he was holding his hands up toward the direction of the hall where the bathroom is.  One thing he CAN do without a doubt is tell us he needs to go to the bathroom.  He was whiny and fussy and was refusing to sign.  So, I just kissed him and sat him down on the bed, then sat in front of him to wait it out.  In a matter of about 15 seconds of sniffling, he perked up, signed, "POTTY," jumped off the bed, and ran into the bathroom.  (He can go by himself now, but prefers to come get us to go with him.)  I could have just sat him on the toilet the minute I guessed that was his issue, but that would not have done him nor me any favors.  And what if that was NOT what he needed?  What if he was simply fussing?  He's learning more and more and more that he uses language to communicate and it's amazing to witness, even the fussy times!

If you think about it, this is just like how your hearing child learned language. You model it, they use it at age-appropriate levels.  You begin expecting them to USE their new words to express themselves instead of just pointing and fussing for it.  You correct and perfect their pronunciation as they are able.  You also expand their vocabulary using words they already know.  Most of this you do without even giving it much thought.  The same goes for signing families.  The same should go for any parent of a deaf child, no matter what route they will choose to take regarding aided hearing or speech.  Give them a language to think in so that they may begin thinking, dreaming, and having ideas way before they learn to read or speak or even hear with aides.  My next blog gives a great example of a hearing dad who "gets it."


  1. Sarah.
    Your blogs are awesome to read! I loved reading this one. Your gift at portraying examples and explaining in detail how you model language is phenomenal. I foresee a book in your future on raising your children. It would definitely be worth writing........AND reading.
    Malinda Bishop


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