Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Road to Matthew's communication

So I have mentioned a little about Matthew's communication, but let me explain it a little bit more.  For the first year of his life he cried; unless he was sleeping or being held.  I was doing everything one handed because I just couldn't stand hearing him cry.  Eventually when he got big enough I was carrying him around in the baby backpack (cooking, cleaning, everything).  When he started crawling (around 10 months) he starting crying less and then at 17 months when he started walking he cried less.

(Matthew first walking at 17 months old)

With my older two children I had read a book on teaching your children sign language before they can speak to help with frustration, so I taught them both (5 or 6 signs) and it worked great.  With Matthew, he was very slow to do it, but he did get please, more, and thank you (but not consistently).  Matthew's mode of communication was screaming and crying.  Some kids if they aren't able to speak let you know what they want by bringing the thing they want to you, taking you to the thing they want, or pointing; Matthew did NONE of these things.  Like I said in the previous post, he would scream and cry and then we would have to guess what he wanted until we got it right, then he would stop crying letting us know we got what he wanted.

(This video Matthew is a little over 2 years old, he had been screaming and crying in his room for about 10 minutes.  I waited to see if he would stop or come to me, I knew he wasn't hurt. This is what he was like most of the time)

Once Matthew started Early Intervention therapies in October (2 years 6 months old) he started getting better with his verbalization.  About a month or so into speech his therapist let us borrow a Baby Signing Time video.  She used some signs in therapy and told us about how if children have a speech disorder they sometimes are nervous about expressing words, so sign language helps gap that.  So we borrowed the DVD and Matthew loved watching it.  So we watched it a lot. I remember when Matthew was about 2 years 9 months old, I was sitting at the computer and he came up to me, tapped me on the arm, and then signed banana!!  No crying, no fit, no meltdown!!!  I cried right then and there.  He approached me and communicated his wants for the 1st time (almost 3 years old). I really felt like sign language was instrumental in helping him connect communication. So we borrowed more signing time videos from his speech therapist and started using a lot more sign language at home.  He started using signs more to identify things (animals, colors, etc.). We started discovering that he actually knew a lot, we just never knew because he didn't have a way of telling us. And we also discovered that he tried to be verbal a lot more when he had a sign to go along with it.

When Matthew turned 3 he got transitioned out of home therapy to a special education preschool setting. He had a driver provided and went 4 days a week for 1/2 days.  I was so nervous about having him go, but I knew that is was the best thing for him.  He LOVED school.  He had a hard time with transitions and being cooperative but he was behaving a lot better and still trying to make sounds.  The speech therapist at school had several different ways of getting him to communicate (pictures, pointing, sign language, a "Go Talk").  They were really wanting him to communicate with the "Go Talk" (a device that talks for you by pushing buttons), and he would do it but preferred to use signs.  Along with school speech therapy I was also taking him 2 times a week to private speech therapy sessions. She was an amazing therapist as well (we have been so blessed with all the speech therapist that we have worked with.  All wonderful!). She also used sign language a lot.  

As a mother I am a worrier.  So I started worrying about Matthew going to Kindergarten.  He doesn't like crowds, he is really small for his age, the doesn't talk (he was improving but he was far from speaking intelligibly), he's Autistic....all these things started weighing me down. A few months before Matthew was turning 4 I was again worrying about Matthew's future.  I got a really strong feeling to look up the local school for the deaf and the hard of hearing. I thought it was a little strange but looked into it anyway.  I went to their website and immediately I was over come with emotion. I was crying looking over their site.  (I am a religious person, so I feel as though God was telling me that this was the place for Matthew) I e-mailed their school and asked if they would ever enroll a hearing child who couldn't speak but used sign language to communicate.  I got a response inviting us to come to the school to discuss the situation.  We went and my husband and I immediately felt like it was the right place for Matthew.  We talked to our coordinator who hesitantly agreed to try for it (we had to get approval for it). It was time for Matthew's annual IEP meeting, so my husband and I discussed our decision with his teacher and speech therapist, and got very different responses.  The teacher told us that she thought we were wonderful parents and she trusted our judgment; the speech therapist completely disagreed with us and told us we were abandoning our son's verbal communication and other things.  We KNEW it was the right thing deep in our hearts so it didn't even bother us.  (I am sharing this little part of Matthew's past so that parents out there reading this know that if you feel strongly about something with your child's therapy or education, don't be afraid to give it a try and stay strong).

Matthew got approved to go to the deaf school (much to our coordinators surprise). And he started up at the beginning of the school year.  It was preschool: 5 days a week full-day.  To make this long story a little shorter he did AMAZING at the school.  He started verbalizing more, signing a LOT, and his behavior improved immensely.  He started getting better about letting us know his needs and wants (it's still not perfect, but he is communicating and that is what we care about). Instead of 20 + fits a day we are now down to about 4 or 5 a day.  And when he has fits all we have to do is ask what's wrong and he can let us know.  

This past year we are finally getting to know our son!  We are getting to know his little personality, what he understands, what his interests are, etc. It has been so amazing and all because of sign language.  Our family has had to learn it too, but we are willing to learn anything if it's going to help Matthew succeed.  

(Matthew signing "Hi My name is Matthew (name sign) then he proceeds to spell his first AND last name, not even 5 and he can spell his name!)

I guess that is enough for this post.  I still have lots to share but giving a child a "voice" I think is one of the most amazing and rewarding things.  And every child is different, so just because this is working for Matthew doesn't mean it's the answer for all.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. You are awesome!!! I started signing with my son at 5 weeks old, thank god I did!! He is 3 now and autistic and his speech was nearly zero 6 months ago but now he has swopped his signs for speaking and never shuts up. I looked for a deaf group in our community but there isn't one :( The first time he met a deaf teenager he rattled off his signs like he had met his best friend.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your Mother's heart with us. Matthew is a very blessed little boy to be a part of a family like yours.

  4. Wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. MaryBeth,

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story! Our daughter Anna who is turning eight this week has autism, and we were also blessed to give her a voice with sign language before she finally spoke her first word, "brother," at 3+. At three when she had her evaluation with the early intervention services, she actually passed as a 'normal' pre-schooler because of her 250+ signs, being able to answer all of the questions of the evaluators though completely non-verbal. By about 4 1/2 she had transitioned from sign language to verbal speech and is growing by leaps and bounds in all areas. Sign language was such a blessing to us! Keep up the great work!!
    Lisa Winton

  6. this is so inspriing to know he is succeeding so well

  7. I was just thinking of exploring the same thing with my girl who is on spectrum. Her verbal language feels to me like someone with impaired hearing yet her hearing comes back perfectly at every type of check. And she has been very engaged in sign language at every stage of development, Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  8. Please join the FB page, "Communication Now" and help spread the word to stop discrimination against Apraxic children and/or children who communicate through American Sign Language.

  9. How very inspiring...
    It also sounds like you've been really blessed with access to therapy all around too that we (along with other families here in Nevada) haven't been able to get for our three year old daughter (she has ASD too) so we are having to move to another state that has better available treatments.
    Can I ask what state you are in or what other states might approve of something like that as it is something we are open to as well (as Signing Time has been instrumental in getting her to talk). She is on full medicaid now but even with that, as she is over the age of three now, and for whatever reason, doors just continue to slam close or come with incredibly too long delays to get her into the therapies she needs (and had in other states before moving back home here) so we are taking the 'hint' and seeking wherever open doors are to get her into whatever it takes and wherever that now leads us even to a different state...
    I think it's a great idea I never thought of and am definitely going to keep my eyes open for a school like that wherever we end up going. Our daughter passed all her hearing tests (audiogram included) but we disagreed with how the audiogram was done and would like it redone. The way she talks often sounds like someone who has difficulty hearing, but it's not consistent and she has started responding to her name more, and not "ignoring" as much as she used to when she was 2 years old. But we've also used some of things the speech therapist taught us (as well as Signing Time, like saying the object you're pointing before saying "look" so they know what you're telling them to look at), or for another example I constantly have to get her attention by touching her, having her put her hand on my face when I speak to her, sign, etc..
    Also I noticed you have other children and am also interested in how they have handled all this, how they interact, and what support you have found the best for them. We have a four year old (her big brother and rock) and a one year old (typically developing so far), both boys, neither in school or preschool (or daycare).
    Thank you again for sharing, it is very encouraging.

    1. I would be happy to share more information with you. If you could e-mail at: that would be great. I don't really give out too much information about us for all to see. :-) Look forward to hearing from you.

  10. Thank you for responding to my response. I just sent you a message!

    There isn't a school for deaf and hard of hearing near us that I know of (but am still researching to find where there are at) but I did just learn about "Brain Solutions" that reminded me of your article and their services, as they use the "tomatis" listening training method!services/cy9b and could possibly shed further light on why an ASD child who can hear can have such success with a school for hearing impaired.

    Anyway thank you again for the inspiring words!