Thursday, April 17, 2008

Speech development and baby signs

I've been wanting to write this post for about two months now, but I never seem to be able to find the time and energy that it deserves. At least not at the same time.

Today I've decided to just write something, regardless of how perfectly it turns out. :)

About two months ago I took Thomas to the pediatrician for his one year well baby visit. Everything went beautifully (and quickly!) until near the end I mentioned that he didn't seem to be talking much. Well, at all, really. He had one basic sound: "nananana" which he used for everything.

The normal visit suddenly became not normal as the doctor paged through his entire file and asked half a million questions. This was followed by some little tests to see if Thomas responded to a voice or clapping outside of his field of vision. Apparently this kind of indeterminate use single sound "talking" at age one is consider a speech delay, and boy do they ever jump on it. The concern is that a speech delay may mean a degenerative hearing disorder, in which case early intervention is crucial. I was also told that even if it isn't a hearing problem, they might refer us to a speech therapist - also for "early intervention".

I'm glad that we have a pediatrician who pays attention. I'm glad to know that early intervention is possible and that if Thomas does have any sort of problem, he will have help, and quickly.

I don't think there is anything wrong with him.

I think he's hearing just fine. He responds to us when we call him, he points out airplanes in the sky when they roar overhead. He startles when dogs bark. He just doesn't say much.

As of today, Thomas is developing a few more sounds. He's pretty good at "dadada" and the occasional "mamama", although still indiscriminately. I don't think he has any concept that "dada" is Gabe and "mama" is me. They're just sounds that he's playing with.

Jonathan was far ahead of schedule in his language development, and because of this I've been intentionally reminding myself, all last year, that Thomas need not develop at the same pace. He's taking his sweet time talking and that is ok with me. He can take as much time as he wants learning to talk. Now, communication? That is another issue.

Communication has become crucial, not because of my frustration but because of his. The amount of screaming that suddenly started happening around age one was incredible. Thomas had very clear ideas of what he wanted, but he had no way to tell me other than waving his arms over his head and yelling. Let me tell you, that got old fast. So we're teaching Thomas some baby sign language, and it is such a relief! Thomas can now tell me when he's "all done" and wants to get down, or if he wants "more", or if he's "hungry" or "thirsty", or wants "up". We're even starting work on some less concrete words like "sad" to give him language to use when Jonathan cries, and "sleepy" just in case he ever wants to take a nap (is that wishful thinking, or what?) :)

Now that Thomas has a handle on some sign language, I can have a new level of expectations for him. Before, if he screamed it was just something I had to deal with. It wasn't his fault, really, because he didn't have any other way to communicate. He was in a toddler body with a baby-stage grasp of language. Now, if Thomas chooses to scream, most of the time it is in a situation such that I can say "No screaming, Thomas. Use your signs." And he can. Sometimes it takes some reminding, but he can. It makes parenting him as a toddler much more reasonable, because it is fair to expect him to communicate. He may not be able to talk yet, but we've taught him how to tell us what he needs.

I know that there are lots of arguments surrounding the use of baby sign language. Proponents say it helps the child communicate now and increases his speech abilities later. Others disagree, saying that it just increases speech delay. I've read arguments on both sides and frankly? I don't care. Because right now it works for my son. Instead of being a screaming, frustrated, cranky toddler, baby signs allow Thomas to have his needs met. I'm not frustrated, trying to guess why he's screaming, and he's happy because he is understood.

There is a lot to be said for communication. Since my baby isn't a baby anymore, but isn't ready to talk yet, sign language is a satisfying solution.


mhcowen said...

Matthew has a 9 month speech delay. After what we have been through, I would seriously look into having his hears checked. Not necessarily because of hearing but he may have fluid blocking his ear canals making him "hear" as he is underwater. Matthew is 100% blocked in right ear, and 80% blocked in the other ear. He does have 15% hearing loss in the left ear(due to chronic ear infections). Not a huge deal in the broad scheme of things. Finally this Tuesday he is having tubes put in his ears. I will update my family about the situation in the next few days on my blog. There have been SO many technological advances in this area.
Matthew has been in speech therapy for the last 9 months and it has helped. The first thing they work with is the sign language and Matthew refused! Keep up on it!
We may be a little biast; Mike's mom owns her own speech therapy business. Begining speech therapy now may be a great option because it truly is "play" therapy without the social issues they will face later on.
I could remember the screaming like it was yesterday--in fact at times it still is:)
I am in this with you, Hannah

mhcowen said...

Sorry, bias

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Hannah, thanks for your comment. The doctor did mention that possibility, but didn't seem to think it the likely culprit since Thomas hasn't EVER had an ear infection. We're in the "watch this closely and follow up in three months" phase right now, with another appointment coming up in a few weeks, so we'll see what they say then!

Sarah Marie said...

This is interesting - I didn't know you were using signs with Thomas! I used to babysit for a little girl who used baby signs, and it was actually really helpful! She wasn't talking much - just making excited noises or unhappy noises :) - so the signs helped me know what she was yelling about, and whether it was "hey, look, a dog! I love dogs!" or "hey, give me food now! I want it, and if I don't get it, I'll scream my angry scream!"