One of the most challenging aspects of Jack not speaking at the level that his peer group communicates at is that Mommy and Daddy have been in a state of constant confusion as to what goes on in his little mind. From the moments when he completely melts down for unknown reasons to the moments that he exclaims with glee over something that is unseen to us, we are always wanting to know what’s going on in his head. Over the past few weeks we have been granted ever growing access to that which we have longed for. Jack has begun communicating with us beyond just his wants and needs, but he’s been using his signs in full sentences to tell us stories or to draw our attention to things that captivate his interest and imagination. Mommy and Daddy are ecstatic.
For the longest time Jack has been using simple sentences like “Mommy up” or “More milk”, but that was the extent at which he wished to communicate. He didn’t seems very interested in learning signs about people or animals, but mainly about food he wanted to eat or forms of flying technology. Based solely on the signs he was interested in learning and using, one would think that Jack only cared about juice, cookies, airplanes, and rocket ships. Regardless of his lackluster interest, I did my best to encourage the use of signing or speaking for other items.
For example, Jack loves when Mommy draws pictures for him and usually he will tell me what he wants me to draw by pointing at objects, then one day I started using signs and asking him to tell me with his words or signs. He was frustrated at first, but then he began to connect the dots, if he uses the sign for car, Mommy will draw him a picture of a car. Since we seemed to be on a bit of a signing hot streak, I did my best to drag out the activity as long as I could by asking him to tell me what parts of the car I should draw, “Does Jack want Mommy to draw lights on the car?” and then I would sign “lights”. He would begin to nod his head and I encouraged him to use the sign. He would then use the sign and I would ask him, “Should they be big lights or small lights?” and he responded with a sign indicating big lights or small lights. This was a huge breakthrough. It was as if Jack suddenly understood that he could use signs to communicate and the more signs he used, the better the results. Since playing this drawing game, Jack has been on a signing frenzy.
One of Jack’s favorite things to sign about is Daddy. When asked who his favorite person is, he always responds with the sign for Daddy. When Daddy isn’t around, he’ll sign for Daddy and ask where he is. I’ll then respond with the appropriate answer, “Daddy at work”, “Daddy upstairs”, “Daddy downstairs”, Daddy in car”, “Daddy taking a bath”, etc. Now, when Jack asks where Daddy is, he’ll often ask if Daddy is any of those places. He gets so excited when it’s close to lunch time because he knows that Daddy will be home for lunch. So, he will begin to sign, “Daddy” and “eat”. Unfortunately, some days he begins to sign this at ten in the morning and I have to explain to him that it’s not lunch time yet. But Jack is always excited to see his Daddy. The moment he sees him drive up the driveway or walk towards the door, his face lights up, he signs Daddy, yells, and rushes to the door to open it.
Jack has become so adept at unlocking our doors and opening them that we’ve had to install latches where he can’t reach them to keep him from opening the door and rushing out without our knowledge. This inability to open doors at will now has prompted Jack to learn the sign for open and close door. Jack is so ravenous for words that if he needs a sign for something and Mommy can’t come up with it quick enough, he has started making up his own signs. In this instance with the open and closing of the door, Jack knows the ASL sign for “open” and “close”, but he made up his own sign for “door”, which is him pretending to knock on a door.
Most of the signs he comes up with are completely logical and practical. When Jack wants to indicate more than one of an item he simply puts up both of his pointer fingers. If he wants to count something, he puts up both of his pointer fingers and either signs for the object he wants to count or points to object he wants to count. The ASL dictionary doesn’t have a specific sign for yogurt, which is one of Jack’s favorite foods, so to indicate that he wants yogurt, Jack will waive his hand in the air, almost like a cross between the sign for “juice” and the sign for “milk”. When Jack wants to talk about both Mommy and Daddy, he puts his hands up to like a moose as if he’s creating his own plural sign. Some signs are difficult to discern, but for the most part they are easy to understand.
Mommy and Daddy have learned so much in the past few weeks about Jack and how he thinks. The level of nuance he understands is amazing, like the difference between a duck and bird and the difference between the two when signing. We’ve also learned that Jack loves to talk about animals. He loves to talk about lions, monkeys, fish, giraffes, elephants, dogs, sheep, birds, squirrels, ducks, snakes, etc. You name it and if he can see it, he’ll sign it and start telling you a story, like the fish are swimming in the bath or the duck has two eyes. Now that he knows he can communicate, it’s all the he wants to do.
One of his other favorite signs is “play”. Jack loves to ask Mommy and Daddy to play or to read stories. However, as his vocabulary grows, Jack prefers to read the stories to Mommy and Daddy. His favorite book right now is Goodnight Gorilla, which has a wide array of zoo animals and items and actions he can name. So, as we turn the pages, he will tell us how the gorilla is opening up the doors and how the mouse has a banana. Then he will want to count the doors and the lights on a specific pages and mimic the animals sleeping on others. He’ll wave “bye bye” to the animals when it’s time to tell them “goodnight”. Jack loves to read.
It’s amazing what a huge difference it makes to be able to understand what your child wants, needs, and loves. It’s amazing how fulfilling it is to get a glimpse into the mind of our little Jack. It’s simply amazing just to be able to talk with him and have little conversations. We’re still working on getting him to speak with his mouth, but right now, we’re ecstatic just to know what’s going on in his head. Mommy and Daddy look forward to Jack’s vocabulary growing even more, expanding the topics we can chat about, but without a doubt, the best phase that Jack knows, that his signs by making an “L” with his pointer and thumb is “I love you”. Mommy and Daddy have been waiting for nearly three years to hear that phrase and it doesn’t disappoint in the least.