In One Ear

When the assessors told me that Joey’s comprehension of speech is at a twelve-month level, I wasn’t sold. The speech therapist at the Regional center explained that it seems as though he can understand more of what’s happening at home because he knows our routines. But it seemed perfectly possible that he just hadn’t chosen to communicate his understanding at the assessment. So Thursday and Friday, I tried talking to Joey without signs, gestures, or props: and he can’t understand what I’m saying. If I sign as I say “Are you hungry?” then he will say “Okay!” or run to the kitchen or both. If I just ask, “Are you hungry?” he doesn’t know what’s going on. I spent two days saying everything without visual hints, waiting, and then repeating myself and adding signs and so forth.

They were right. I was wrong.

I can’t wait until our Signing Time dvds get here; even if Joey doesn’t choose to sign, if Kit and I can start signing to him, that clearly helps him to know what we’re talking about. I’ve been looking into ways to learn more ASL (in some ways, it makes more sense for me to try to learn EES, or Exact English Signing, but ASL is a cooler and more widely used language, so I’d rather use that) in a structured way. I can keep adding single signs via the internet, but I’m not going to get a real grasp of grammar or syntax that way. And I know that it would be best if I could learn directly from a D/deaf person. Right now, I’m thinking about asking my parents for an ASL class for my birthday—but that’s, what, like six months away. But in the meantime, I’m going to look for more dvds and ask for book recommendations. The only other person I’ve really talked to who has a young autistic son has decided not to sign with him—and he doesn’t talk. I’m in favor of sign based on a recommendation from the first speech therapist and what I know about sign and D/deaf kids (which turned out to be much more controversial than I would have guessed). I want Joey to learn a language, and any language will make it easier for him to learn other languages. He has been losing words for more than six months now, and his useful vocabulary is down to something like twenty words now (he can also name things that he is seeing in Blue’s Clues). If he can sign, then by all means, let’s sign.

12 thoughts on “In One Ear

  1. I recently read a life-changing book called Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon (he wrote an equally amazing book on depression called The Noonday Demon)–it’s about parents raising children whose identities are fundamentally different than their own. The book includes a chapter on autism and a chapter on the deaf community. I would HIGHLY recommend it for you!

  2. Weird, I just read on article on that book and ordered it from the library. I can’t wait to read it. Susie Book, I’ve been thinking about you during this time. I’m so glad that Joey has such an amazing mom!

  3. I know it is a lot to figure out and I’m glad you are getting good help! One thing you may want to talk to the intervention team about is using the PECS system rather than ASL. PECS uses a picture system and it is much easier to learn than ASL – much less time and energy investment for both of you so it may get him communicating a lot faster (and with success communicating that can really reinforce more communication). You mentioned before that he’s low tone and most kids on the spectrum who are low tone also have motor planning problems. Signing with motor planning problems can be really difficult (even if he can learn to read your signs, it may be difficult for him to learn to communicate back very effectively). If you put PECS free printable into Google you can get started with it pretty easily.

    • I did read about PECS, but I would rather give Joey real language. Right now, if he can’t tell me what he wants (which is most of the time), I will give him my hand and he can lead me—if he can’t lead me, he can usually, if it is important to him, manage to make me understand. He did try to sign at me this morning, and it was poorly done—a result of low muscle tone, I’m sure—but I know that with OT and PT he will gets stronger.

      • The frustrating thing with low tone is while the child may seem to gain strength – and that is important – it doesn’t necessarily change the laxity of the muscle, the weakness of the brain-muscle connection, or the fundamental problems with motor planning or sensory organization. I encourage you to remain open minded about the communication options from the team. Using picture communication doesn’t take away from “real language” for many kids it helps them acquire it more readily and some kids also pick up on reading before they speak. It is great he’s trying to communicate with you and hopefully in time he’ll be able to extend that to other people (grandparents, father, friends, siblings, teachers, etc.)
        Great that you are getting him help!

  4. A very commonly used series of texts (with DVDs) in ASL classes is Signing Naturally. It’s fairly straightforward, and I’ve usually found it to be easy to comprehend. It looks a little dated, but most of the classes I’ve been in still use it. As an additional resource some of my classes have used the American Sign Language Green Books for grammar intensive stuff, but they’re a little more difficult for someone who’s brand new, I think. Anyway, I would highly recommend checking that out.

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