Monday, 23 August 2010

Why I Love Baby Signing

When Felix was 9 months old, we went to see the health visitor for a developmental review. She asked if he was babbling yet... although a very vocal child, I knew he wasn't babbling the way others way or the way that it's described in the text book. So, she recommended that we might find baby signing useful if his speech was a little delayed.

I'd heard of baby signing and had been put off by a lady who seemed like a real 'earth mother' (in a bad way) and lead a singing session whilst singing horrendously out of tune. But on the health visitor's advice, I was willing to give it a go and could totally understand the benefits of having a child who WAS able to communicate even if he couldn't talk.

I contacted the mums from my antenatal group (that group where I only made it to one class before giving birth!) and found that two of them had signed up to Sing and Sign a little way from where we live, but not a bad journey. So we joined them.

The first term, Felix ran riot in class, poking all the other children in the face, climbing over the teacher and the other mums (he's not shy, my boy) and exploring every inch of the room. He didn't pay much attention to the signs or the singing but seemed to enjoy class. And after thinking I was doing fine just occasionally going out to do things, I quickly began to see Sing and Sign class as the highlight of the week. Nothing would get in the way of me going out and *deep breath* talking to other adults! Paying for the term in advance really worked for me!!

Term 1 was followed by summer holidays. We saw our teacher once and whilst flicking through a book, she swore blind Felix had signed 'elephant' to her. I thought she was being optimistic, but sure enough, a couple of days later, I was showing him the book, and he waved his arm about enthusiastically as soon as he saw the elephant. He was signing!

As I had already decided to become a teacher, when we went back to do our second term, we did both the baby and the toddler stage at the same time (so I could learn as much as possible, as fast as possible). Felix's age and walking stage meant he was on the cusp of moving up a stage anyway, so it worked out well for us - although it was a slightly long afternoon for him!

He picked up sign after sign and LOVED class. Sometimes he'd have a little dance, once in a blue moon he'd actually sit with me and be cuddly whilst enjoying the songs, and he was ALWAYS the first one to the front when there were any toys or excitement to be had!

At his 2 year old developmental check, I admitted that I knew he was behind with his speech. The average 2 year old is saying approx 50 words apparently, Felix had just 10-15 words. But, and this is why signing is so amazing, his communication skills were brilliant. He can tell us what he wants, he can tell us what he has seen that has interested him and he understands everything we say (of course, sometimes he chooses to ignore it). We could tell that his language development was brilliant too by his occasional combinations of signs or signs and spoken words.

Almost 2 months on and his words are coming along slowly. He's picking up more and more but even still, when the words are sometimes a little bit unclear - was that 'bear' or 'baa'? - we can find out the meaning by adding in a sign.

We have our own sceptical moments, and plenty of comments from others... "Would he be speaking more if he couldn't communicate by signs?". Maybe he would. We will never know. But life would be a LOT more difficult if he didn't speak AND he didn't sign. And the evidence was there early that he wouldn't be speaking so I definitely think we did the right thing.

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