One Mother's Journey From Adversity to Opportunity
The Coleman Family
Rachel, Aaron, Leah and Lucy
In December of 1996, Rachel Coleman and her husband Aaron welcomed their first daughter Leah into the world. At the time, Rachel was writing music and performing with her folk rock band. They would take young Leah to band practices and concerts and were amazed that she was able to sleep in spite of the loud music. When she was fourteen months old, they discovered why: Leah was profoundly deaf.
To say the least, their world turned upside down. Rachel's priorities instantly changed: she put down her guitar and picked up sign language. She and her husband immediately started teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to Leah as fast as they could learn it. Something remarkable happened: by the time Leah was 18 months old, her baby sign language vocabulary far surpassed the spoken vocabulary of hearing children her same age. While Leah's little friends could only point and whine for something they wanted, Leah found it much more effective to sign, "Juice, not milk" or, "Cheese and crackers, please". Other parents took notice, including Rachel's sister Emilie, who started teaching sign language to her infant son Alex, so that he would be able to communicate with Leah. Emilie was thrilled one morning when baby Alex, then only ten months old, found his own use for sign language: he stopped fussing, looked up at her, and signed "milk".
Leah, age 3
A few years later, Rachel's second daughter Lucy was born. After dealing with Leah's deafness, she thought she was prepared for anything. However, Lucy arrived eight weeks premature with spina bifida and cerebral palsy. Doctors worried that Lucy would never be able to speak, let alone use her rigid fingers to sign with her deaf sister.
In the midst of all of this, Rachel and her sister Emilie decided to team up to create a captivating, entertaining video to teach sign language to hearing children. Their plan was to make a short DVD that gave their friends and family a fun and easy way to learn a second language, but most importantly to sign with Leah. In May of 2002 the first volume of Signing Time! was completed, starring Rachel, 3-year-old Alex and 5-year-old Leah. The response was overwhelming. Word spread from mom to mom and family to family. Before long, the small community of people learning to sign with Leah grew into an expansive community of parents, educators and health professionals using Signing Time to introduce the benefits of sign language to children everywhere. Testimonials poured in with touching stories about how Signing Time had been instrumental in dissolving communication barriers and giving a "voice" to children who previously had no way to express themselves. Everyone wanted more Signing Time. Rachel and Emilie's company, Two Little Hands Productions, was born.
Shortly after the release of Volume 1, the Coleman family experienced a miracle of their own making: after two years of no communication, Rachel's second daughter Lucy began to sign along with Signing Time, despite her physical challenges. Shortly thereafter, Lucy started talking. At age five, Lucy began attending mainstream kindergarten, something Rachel never imagined possible.
It's Time for Signing Time
Alex and Emilie Brown
Around the time Signing Time was being developed, the media began to pick up on the benefits of signing with hearing infants. While most people at the time still thought sign language was only for the deaf, scores of parents everywhere began to pay attention and joined Rachel, Emilie and a handful of other proponents of "baby sign language" in perpetuating it as a powerful means of teaching babies and toddlers to communicate pre-verbally.
Scientific studies show that "typical" children who learn to sign:
- have higher IQ scores
- are better adjusted
- read at an earlier age
Many parents observe that by learning to communicate earlier, the "terrible twos" are not so terrible - children can use a sign instead of throwing a tantrum to express their needs.
In the 2004 sequel to "Meet the Parents" Robert DeNiro's character was teaching his baby grandson "Little Jack" to sign so that he would be smarter.
Emilie signs 'socks' during
production of volume 2
(Little Jack was played by twins Spencer and Bradley Pickren, who actually did learn sign language from Signing Time.) While the movie was comedic in nature, it marked the point of mainstream awareness of signing as a revolutionary parenting tool.
For All Children Everywhere
In only a few years, the Signing Time program has spread by word of mouth to all 50 states and over 20 countries. Signing Time is used widely by educators, pediatricians, home-schoolers, speech therapists, public schools, daycare centers, libraries and families as the most fun and easy way to introduce children to sign language.
Alex and Leah having
fun in production
In addition to 26 Volumes of Signing Time available on DVD, Two Little Hands Productions also offers Baby Signing Time — a series developed for children ages three months to three years old; Signing Time Songs — CDs featuring the much-loved music for the series; children's board books, flash cards, and other DVDs developed to reinforce the use of sign language in everyday life.
Thanks in large part to Signing Time, sign language is now gaining recognition as an all-encompassing tool for communication that anyone can use. Whether used by a pre-verbal infant, a non-verbal child with disabilities, or a family who simply wants to learn ASL as a second language, signing has become an important part of American culture.
Rachel on set
Evidence is also mounting that children with special needs, such as apraxia of speech, autism, or down syndrome who have difficulty with speech can make great strides in their communication development when Signing Time is part of their regimen. The multi-sensory approach of Signing Time engages visual learners, kinesthetic learners, and auditory learners of all ages and abilities, while making sign language easy and fun.
While sign language is beneficial for every child, Rachel confesses a more personal goal. She says, "My hope is that everyone will know a little sign, just as most people know a little Spanish - so when your child sees my child at the park, there would be no awkwardness, no communication barrier, just three signs... "Hi ... friend ... play'... that is all it would take to change her world."
After years of musical silence, Rachel found a reason to pick up that guitar again, writing and recording over 100 songs for the entire Signing Time series. She used to sing for herself; now she sings and signs for Leah, Lucy and children everywhere.