(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.