Wyatt’s crazy progress thanks to ASL signs

Originally posted on fromNICUtoLife by Nicole Ott Signing Time Academy Instructor

Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed anyone that Wyatt could be where he’s at now simply by introducing him to some basic ASL signs. Here was a kid who was completely non-verbal and had meltdowns every single day, multiple times a day. He was the kid who had a meltdown simply for being in the same room as a therapist. No medical professional knew how to help us. There was no silver lining. We had essentially given up hope that his behavior would ever change. Communication and behavior progress seemed impossible.

It was out of pure desperation that we decided to stop therapies altogether and introduce signs. That decision came with an enormous amount of guilt for not being able to help our son, for going against the recommended standard therapies, and therefore the fear of failing as a parent. But we had no options left. The medical alternative we were given was to medicate him to keep him calm. That was not an option in our book. That was the point when I decided to trust my intuition. Medicating him into a drowsy state would not teach him to communicate and deal with frustration. We had to go out on a whim and cross all fingers and toes. Making that bold decision also meant that we had a very lonely road ahead of us because no one had dealt with this severity of a behavior before where every meltdown was a life-threatening emergency. I can’t speak for my husband but I personally felt that everything we had tried was unsuccessful and that if we kept going like this, the next breath holding episode might kill our son.

“Pain is a necessary process of growth”, so I’ve been told. Desperation when you’re trying to help your own child falls right in line with that. So, I made the only decision I felt I could and dove in head first, immersed myself in ASL vocabulary, modeled the signs daily, all while clinging on to the mere hope that it will pay off.

And let me tell you, it did pay off in more ways than I could have ever imagined! I was simply hoping for Wyatt to learn to tell me his very basic wants and needs so the frustration at home would ease. Instead, he exceeded my wildest imagination. Not only did he start to recognize the signs and eventually sign them back but his whole behavior changed. As his vocabulary grew he became less and less frustrated. He started to voluntarily interact with the people around him, which was something he had never done before. He learned to read and imitate facial expressions and body language and even showed empathy. If you have experience with Autism, you know that those are HUGE milestones that some kids on the spectrum never meet. He’s now excited to tell me about his day and invites me to play with him, he even engages in pretend play. But what really touched me the most is that he now wants human contact. Every parent wants their child to hug them, snuggle up with them on the couch and show them they love them. Those moments didn’t happen for us for several years. Wyatt didn’t want to be touched, he didn’t want to engage. I am happy to say that Wyatt now WANTS to give and receive hug, he now wants snuggle time and he loves when we blow bubbles on his belly. I will never take those moments for granted because it took us taking a giant leap of faith and many years of patience and hard work to now have those moments with him.

Though they seem minor in comparison to the human connection we’ve built with our son, there have also been other communication benefits that we could not have foreseen. For a reason unbeknownst to us, Wyatt to this day at 5 years old seems to comprehend signed language better than spoken language. Even though he was already 3 years old when he started signing back consistently, he only started making vocal attempts when he knew the ASL sign first. It could be a matter of self-confidence on his part to make sure he is understood even if the spoken word does not come out clearly. We don’t know the reason. Either way, we saw how much of an impact signing had on him and how much growth it produced, so we stuck with it. He still struggles with oral language but he can always tell us what’s on his mind by signing! Isn’t that the goal of every parent, to understand and communicate with your child? Speech is nice but communication is what builds that parent-child bond!

Have you started signing with your special needs child? If so, what progress have you seen so far?

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