Article: Becoming the Very Resource I’d Wished For

Becoming the Very Resource I’d Wished For

Laura L. from Manassas, VA
May 2008

I am a stay-at-home mother of a three-year-old and a kindergarten student. When my oldest daughter was a baby, I used sign language with her but never went beyond that. Then my second daughter Marian was born. She failed her newborn hearing screening and had to go through extra testing which resulted in a diagnosis of a moderate to moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss. I immediately went into research mode, trying to learn everything I could about every possible aspect of hearing loss. Our family’s experience with Early Childhood Intervention was difficult. However, there was one good suggestion that changed everything for us when we requested assistance in learning American Sign Language (ASL)- we were told about Signing Time!

We ordered the first three videos and started watching them each evening before bedtime. Our older daughter, who turned three soon after Marian was born, quickly picked up the signs. I laugh at how flustered we would get when more than one sign would be introduced at a time in those early videos. Each time a new set of videos would become available I would quickly order them to add to our collection.

Between nine and 15 months, Marian had no new spoken sounds due to constant ear infections. However, during that time, her signing took off like crazy. Once we had the ear infections under control with ear tubes, she began to quickly pick up the sounds that were missing. I realized that she had been saying the words along with the signs, but only the sounds that she heard. I do not think I would have recognized her attempts at speaking without the signs to aid my comprehension. We soon lost track of how many spoken words and signs she had. Throughout all of this, we never had any frustration from communication difficulties. Marian could always tell us what she wanted with her hands, and later, her voice.

After taking two six-week courses on “Sign Language for Babies” in the next county, I decided to try to form something in my area for the parents who may have felt the same sense of confusion as I did when a diagnosis of hearing loss was given to a child. I wanted to be that person I wish I could have talked with when I first found out about Marian’s hearing loss three and a half years ago. I also hoped that other families who wanted to learn ASL would come, whether they wanted to learn for personal enrichment or for a real need to communicate.

Two years ago, I started an ASL playgroup that continues to meet twice a month. For the first year, I held it at the local library. Then, in order to get a more consistent schedule, I moved it to Bethlehem Lutheran Church. I plan a theme each month with books, games, crafts and songs. We often start by watching a song from a Signing Time video. My three-year-old loves being Mommy’s helper at the playgroup and will even help show the signs for the words and concepts we are practicing.

To promote the group, I told my kids’ friends, advertised on the local freecycle.com discussions group, shared it with both the Early Intervention and the county school’s preschool programs, and promoted it in the area for playgroups in the Signing Time forums. In addition, my husband helped me put up a website, http://pwcasl.org. Many of the first people to come were friends and people who found out about it from the local freecycle discussions group. I have also started getting some people to come through word of mouth and from finding the website. Some families are just interested in sign language. Some families have a child with some communication difficulty, whether they have a child going through speech therapy, or with a diagnosis such as hearing loss, Down syndrome or apraxia.

Since starting a playgroup seems daunting to many, I decided to start posting all the information I gathered for each theme on my blog (also linked through http://pwcasl.org.) I hope that this will make others who want to start a playgroup more likely to do so. In addition, most of the ideas can be used by families at home to practice ASL, not just within a playgroup. Each theme has a list of books, some games and activities, suggested songs and at least one craft. There is always more than enough to fill an hour of a playgroup.

Since Marian’s speech has taken off and her ears are clear enough for the hearing aids to work well, our family does not sign nearly as much as we used to at home. However, we still use signs in loud places like kid-themed restaurants, in quiet places like church, through sliding glass doors, to emphasize having good behavior in public, and when hearing aids are out for the day. Daddy can sign “pizza time” across the restaurant, I can sign “quiet” at church, and Daddy signs “deer” through the sliding glass door to let the girls know there is one in the back yard. I remind the girls to say “please” and “thank you” or to sit down nicely without having to raise my voice or call too much attention to them when in public. I do not know what I would have done without discovering Signing Time just when our family really needed it!