Children with Down Syndrome take to Signing Time

Signing Time is for children of all abilities, including children who have Down syndrome. Since it is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we compiled different stories from parents all over the United States, who have shared their experience using Signing Time with their children who have Down Syndrome.

We hope you are enlightened by what others have to say. Feel free to share your stories too.

Solid Means of Communication
By Tammy H. mother of Parker from Alpine, UT

Parker was in the PICU after a very frightening surgery to remove his tonsils. Because of airway issues he had been intubated. In order to keep him safe while on the vent, they gave him medication that made movement impossible.

I’ll never forget walking up to my son, looking into his eyes and watching as one lone tear slid down his face. That tear spoke volumes.

This experience convinced me of the importance of providing Parker with a solid means of communication.

Children with Down syndrome are prone to developing language skills later than their typical peers. Add in Parker’s trach and his ability to communicate with the world around him becomes even more compromised.

Many therapists tried to point us in the direction of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) unique augmentative/alternative training package that teaches children with communication deficits to initiate communication by using a single picture for a highly desired item. But I envision words being like prisms. When I am trying to express myself I work to use each word in the way that best reflects the light of my meaning.

I didn’t want Parker’s language, his feelings and emotions to be represented by a one-dimensional sketch.

Parker began watching Signing Time when he was less than a year old. Actually, I should say that our entire family began watching Signing Time. Helping Parker acquire language skills is a family activity. We are all learning to sign.

Signing encourages expression. When Parker is hungry I know just how hungry he is by how vehemently he signs his thought to me. Parker is able to voice his opinion for certain doctors when he signs “Monster” as they walk into the room. Talk about sending a message!

I can hear Parker’s ‘voice’ as he signs. Through signing, Parker’s individuality shines through.  Because of his trach, using two fingers to sign ‘frog’ is impossible. So he uses one finger on his chin. He’s able to add his own personal flair to his signs, a kind of personalized accent.

I’m grateful for Rachel and the mission of Signing Time to share the language of sign. Because of her efforts and passion, my son will have the opportunity to learn a language that allows him to share the deepest desires of his heart.

By Donna H. from Raleigh, NC

Our daughter, Brooke, was born on 7-20-03.  Shortly after her birth, her father and I were told that Brooke had Down syndrome. The first few months of her life were filled with learning more about Down syndrome, what Brooke’s needs would be, and how we could best help her with some of the developmental issues that go with Down syndrome.  At the same time, her father and I were falling more and more in love with this special little gift that was sent especially for us!  We quickly became fully committed to doing whatever necessary to help Brooke develop into her full potential.

Many told us that one of the bigger developmental issues for children with Down Syndrome is speech development. When Brooke was about 11 months old, a very early age, we were encouraged by her first early developmental therapists to begin learning and teaching Brooke sign language.  We were told that sign language would serve as a tool for her to communicate, as well as a tool for her to learn how to talk.  I must admit, the first mention of the use of sign language terrified me. To think that my daughter would have to rely on only signs to communicate was unsettling to me.  Little did I know how much fun it would become and how much we would come to love and appreciate sign language!

So, after the recommendation was made to teach Brooke sign language, I did the research.  We began to see a private speech therapist, “Dr. Tom”, at the same time.  He just so happened to have conducted quite a few studies on sign language and the development of speech in children with Down syndrome.  His recommendation was the same… “start signing…and the sooner the better”.  The facts were pretty compelling, so we slowly started to teach Brooke some basic signs. To my surprise, Brooke quickly picked up on the first signs we showed her: more, milk, and please.  She would light up like a light bulb when signing to us that she wanted milk!  We had to quickly move forward with this process and introduce more signs.  Brooke, again, picked right up on the signs and began to use them in her everyday activities.  She seemed to quickly understand that every concept had a label and that every concept could even be described with a sign.  She wanted to learn more and more.  She suddenly seemed to realize that this was her connection to the world!  She seem to know that she could not only understand what was being said to her, but that she could respond or add to what was being said too her.  I don’t think we even realized how much she wanted that connection to the world until she picked up on the signs and ran with them so fast.  She wanted to know more.

At this point we were introduced to Signing Time.  Brooke would sit and watch the show very intently every Sat. morning.  She fell in love with Rachel, Alex, and Leah!  She would sing and dance and sign all at the same time.  We then googled this group and learned they had a website and several products that would aid in Brooke’s learning.  We ordered DVDs, CDs, and flash cards.  She loved Signing Time and would prefer to watch Signing Time DVDs over any other DVD.  Not a day would go by that Brooke would not ask to watch Signing Time (in sign language, of course).  From the television shows and the DVDs, she began picking up signs before her father and I would pick them up. So, we had to be sure to watch the shows and DVDs with her just to keep up with her learning.  She began to teach others her signs.  Her extended family relied heavily on Brooke to show them a sign.  When she began preschool, her teachers would ask me to teach them a few signs to help in communicating with Brooke.  I would show the teachers some of the more frequently used signs, and I would tell them to simply “ask Brooke” if they were curious about other signs they were interested in learning.   One day Brooke brought in her signing flashcards for Show and Tell.  The teachers told me it was the biggest hit all year.  From that day on her teacher would remind me to have Brooke bring in her flashcards on all of her Show and Tell days as the children (who were not special needs) LOVED her presentation and learning the signs.

Soon Brooke’s signs were coupled with words.  Then two signs turned into 2 word sentences.  By the time Brooke was 3 1/2 she was using signs to help her formulate 3 word sentences.

She is 5 years old now and still loves Signing Time.  She depends on signing much less now, but still uses signs for fun.  We still use signs to help Brooke use full sentences.  We have also found that she responds better to a command when using a sign (for example: please).  I think this is because she considers sign language her first language…using sign language is communicating on her turf.

I can’t believe I ever had any reservation about the possibility of Brooke using sign language.  Sign language saved us, and was so much fun to learn and use in the meantime!
Now, after all of these years of learning and using sign language through watching Rachel, Alex, and Leah, we get to meet them.  I have been waiting for so many months to be able to see Brooke’s expression when she first sees them!  This group has been such an important part of her learning and her everyday life for the past 3 years.

I am so thankful for sign language and Signing Time!  Signing Time helped my daughter connect to a very fun and joyful place…the world around her!

Signing Time Taught Our Family How to Communicate

By Marty,Theresa and Shea M. from Raleigh, NC

Written by Dad:

Our daughter Shea, now 8 continues, for better or worse, the family tradition of outspoken children as a result of her signing. Shea developed a real interest in signing at about two years of age. She has had significant speech delays, and as we pursued signing with Shea we heard the usual warnings that signing would delay her acquisition of verbal communication skills. Shea clearly felt otherwise. Signing was the only significant way for us to communicate for several years, but even as Shea has increased her verbal skills, she has continued to enjoy and employ signing. Shea’s articulation is challenging at times and her willingness to help her mom, dad and siblings overcome our inability to always understand her, by continuing to sign, has been a blessing. Shea gets a little frustrated at times, but is pretty tolerant of our deficiencies. We are grateful for that and are regularly left to wonder who really is handicapped here.

Shea (and the rest of the family) is a long time fan of Signing Time. When we moved to North Carolina from San Diego, our cross-country drive required a supply of favorite Signing Time videos. We were also accompanied by Hopkins, who we photographed along the way on our trip, sending the pictures into the Signing Time folks after we arrived.

Mom says:

I don’t know what I would have done without Signing Time. It taught me so much more about communicating with my daughter who was five (when we first discovered the videos) than I could ever have learned on my own. Shea’s always had a hard time communicating (and thus much whining and crying was had by all). Learning sign language has opened her world to us and helped us to see what is going on inside her little head! Now that she’s eight, she still has a hard time talking, and we still have to use some signs to help her ‘talk’. She responds tremendously to using her hands along with saying the words. When she has a meltdown, I’m usually able to bring her around by using some signs (for ‘talk’ and ‘words’) and saying, ‘I need you to talk and use your words’.

In Shea’s words (written by Mom), “Hi, my name is Shea. I’m eight. I was born with Down syndrome. I have a learning disability and poor muscle tone. I think this is why I can’t speak very well. I was so glad when my mom learned about Signing Time. I was in preschool at the time and knew some sign language that I used with my teachers and classmates. My teacher told my mom there were videos in the school library we could borrow and when we watched the first one, we were hooked!! I learned so many new words and signs, my vocabulary exploded!!

Learning signs has changed my life. I used to whine and cry a lot, but now my Mom asks me to use my words (we learned the sign for ‘word’) and I try to talk better or tell her what I want with my hands. I still have a hard time talking and I can’t wait till I can speak better with my mouth, but until then, I thank God for Signing Time teaching me how to communicate what I’m thinking or feeling or wanting. Besides teaching me some great new stuff, the movies are so entertaining that my Mom, Dad, baby sister and 13-year old brother enjoy watching them too!! We have almost the whole collection now and I still enjoy watching and learning new signs. My Mom just got me the birthday signing video when I turned eight. I watch it with my 4-year old sister and every time Rachel says, “We’ll see you again soon,” my sister says, “No, you’ll see us soon!!” (at the NC Buddy Walk). We can’t wait!!!

Excited to See Rachel!
by Randy and Shelly C. from Oklahoma City, OK

We were introduced to Signing Time when our daughter Lilly, who has Down syndrome, was about 18 months old. We wanted a way to communicate with her about her basic wants and needs.

From the very beginning Lilly was completely engaged in the DVDs. We all started to sign with her and she picked it up crazy fast, especially in comparison to her rate of learning in other areas. She started signing ‘hungry’ and’ thirsty’ and’ cookie’ right away. We were amazed!

Lilly is seven years old now and her speech is great. We feel that Signing Time was and still is the best thing we ever found for her. We have all of the DVD’s and can’t wait to see Rachel again!

At the Buddy Walk Lilly was Rachel’s biggest fan. Any free time she has is devoted to Alex, Leah, and Hopkins! It is the first thing she does when she gets home from school.

Her sister, Audrey (11 years old) and brother, Jackson (three years old) also love to sign with Lilly. They like to show off her sign language ability to anyone who will watch.

We recommend the series to everyone! Not just children with special needs. We are so excited about this great opportunity to share our story with everyone else.

5 thoughts on “Children with Down Syndrome take to Signing Time”

  1. Signing Time is our world! My 3-year-old son Jack has Down syndrome. Even before he was born and we knew he had DS I was planning to do sign language with him – after his diagnosis we really focused on it. A friend introduced us to Signing Time and he immediately loved watching these videos and had little interest in anything else on TV. It took him almost 2 years to produce more than “more” or “all done”, but now he knows over 100 signs and is constantly learning more! Signing Time also made it so easy for us, as his parents, and our extended family to learn sign language too. Plus, Jack can now sing along to many of the songs (especially the opening song) and he practices his jumping and other motor skills to such songs like “Hopping Time” and “Moving Time”. I think he thinks Alex & Leah are his close friends – he loves seeing them on the screen! His little brother (15-months-old) can also sign a number of words and it’s amazing as a mom to watch them interact and communicate. Thank you Rachel and Signing Time!

  2. I too have a little one named Brook who happens to have Down Syndrome. She started signing at age 2. She learned EVERYTHING from ST dvd’s and Rachel. She is now 2 1/2 and signs well over 200 words. She LOVES ST. She caught on so quickly. I wish I would have started sooner. Now, I tell everyone about ST when they ask who taught her. Rachel did!!! Signing Time and Rachel are my hero’s and I will be forever grateful!!
    Jennifer and Brook

  3. Thank you so much for showcasing our wonderful kids! My son, Tim, has Down syndrome and we have used the Signing Time episodes since he was about 18 months. He is now 3 and goes to a special education preschool. It has helped in more ways than one with his development. We speak German at home, so it has helped bridge the two languages. He says words in both languages and understands commands in both because I use ASL with both. It has also helped him get ready for preschool. Two months before he started, I bought the Welcome to School DVD to get him ready. The night before, I was really nervous but as I put him to bed I told him about going to school with his blue backpack on the bus and he did the signs for backpack, bus and school! It was just so reassuring to me to see him tell me he understood…I knew he would be ok at school. Also, since he loves the alphabet and loves pointing out letters, we use the ASL alphabet to work on fine motor skills. It’s much more motivating to him than working with a peg board. I can’t say thank you enough for bringing your experience and the beauty and fun of ASL to kids all over the country and the world.

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