For many children with Cerebral Palsy, the facial muscles that enable one to speak are impacted and make verbal communication difficult or nonexistent. Communication and speech difficulties are also present in many children with Autism. Of the many challenges children with Cerebral Palsy and Autism face, the lack of ability to effectively communicate is frustrating at best and potentially devastating for the child and family. Can you imagine what it would be like to want to express yourself but not be able to effectively communicate even your most basic needs?
My son has Cerebral Palsy. As an infant, we were able to see some of the physical challenges his body was presenting due to Cerebral Palsy long before we understood how his ability to communicate would impact him and the world around him. At the age of two, he formed his first word, “MOM!” This was followed by “DA!” for Dad. And then, that was it! While he was incredibly verbal, his vocalizations were unrecognizable. Eventually, through speech and other Cerebral Palsy therapies, he began to add one or two words every few months. However, this lack of ability to communicate was heartbreaking for our family. At age four, children his age found it difficult to play with him because they could not understand his happy babbling. We had been working with a speech pathologist trained in Augmentative Communication for children with Cerebral Palsy and Autism, but that was not solving our son’s dilemma.
One day, I ran into an old neighbor whose parents were profoundly deaf. She told me the story of Rachel Coleman and the DVD’s she had created to teach children American Sign Language. They had worked well for my neighbor’s young children and helped them to be able to communicate with their deaf grandparents. That was all I needed to hear and I quickly headed home and searched online for her series of DVDs.
When Rachel Coleman’s first child was born, she was a musician in a folk rock band. She and her husband marveled at baby Leah’s ability to sleep while loud music from Rachel’s practicing band surrounded her. It wasn’t long before they learned the reason: Leah was profoundly deaf. Rachel and her husband immediately began learning ASL (American Sign Language) and worked to teach Leah ASL so that she could communicate. Soon, they realized Leah’s signed language skills surpassed verbal language of other children her age! Within a few years, the Coleman’s second daughter, Lucy, was born prematurely and was diagnosed with Spina Bifida and Cerebral Palsy. They were concerned that not only would Lucy not be able to speak but that her hands impacted by Cerebral Palsy would not be able to sign. Rachel’s sister, Emilie, was teaching her son Alex to sign to be able to communicate early. Realizing the impact American Sign Language was having on their families, they decided to create a DVD to for hearing children to give to family and friends so that they could learn American Sign Language as a second language. With this collaboration, Two Little Hands Productions was formed. They created entertaining DVD’s teaching sign language that starred Rachel, her daughter Leah and Leah’s cousin Alex. As the Coleman’s daughter Lucy grew, they found she was able to communicate using sign language and she is featured in some of the newer videos.
Signing Time DVD’s easily teach sign language to children with Cerebral Palsy or Autism and parents alike. As a musician, a very talented Rachel has produced fun and silly songs that effectively teach sign language and is paired with graphically artistic video that captivates anyone watching. Each volume covers a specific theme around which specific groups of sign language words are taught. The first 13 DVD’s contained in set one, for example, are titled: My First Signs; Playtime Signs; Everyday Signs; Family, Feelings & Fun; ABC Signs; My Favorite Things; Leah’s Farm; The Great Outdoors; The Zoo Train; My Day; My Neighborhood; Time to Eat; and Welcome to School. The songs on each DVD are sung verbally and with sign language and effectively teach you to converse in sign language as opposed to learning individual signs for words that are unconnected. The total Signing Time collection currently contains four Baby Signing Time DVD’s for infants and toddlers and 26 Signing Time DVD’s, each approximately 45 minutes in length. Music CD’s also accompany the DVD’s, as well as a collection of flash cards and board books.
I immediately purchased the Set One Signing Time Collection, the contents of which I listed above. It also came with four music CD’s containing all the signing songs on the DVD’s. We found these were great to use in the car while traveling, as our entire family could have fun singing and signing together and practicing our newfound sign language skills. Our son’s communication capabilities increased tenfold in a matter of months. Because his hands are impacted by Cerebral Palsy, his signing was not pretty, but it was understandable! We created signs for the names of everyone in our family; rather than finger spelling their names we created a single sign. Our son was able to tell us he was thirsty or hungry or even what he wanted to eat. He learned to tell us when he was sleepy or happy or a myriad of other emotions he might be feeling! While sign language did not completely eradicate his communication disabilities caused by Cerebral Palsy, it gave us hope and a degree of understanding with our son that we had not had before. We have since purchased every Signing Time DVD available. My son began watching Signing Time when he was four years old. Today he is nine and he still enjoys watching the Signing Time DVD’s and he even listens to the songs on his mp3 player.
Today, the entire collection from Signing Time can be purchased for $749. This complete set contains 33 DVD’s, 3 Board Books, 8 Flash Card Sets, and 12 Music CD’s. We chose to purchase them in smaller sets of 3 or 4 DVD’s and 2 CD’s. Our son received different sets for birthdays and Christmas until we ended up with the entire collection. While this sounds expensive, the gift we received from our son learning sign language and his newfound ability to communicate with us was invaluable. When I consider the amount of money we have spent over the years on Speech Therapy to overcome communication issues caused by Cerebral Palsy, the cost of the DVD’s is a small pittance.
Many parents are concerned that if their children with Cerebral Palsy or Autism learn to sign before they learn to speak orally, it will delay the development of their speech. On the contrary, we discovered that our son always attempted to verbally speak the word he was signing. He verbally sings along with the CD’s today, helping him to improve his oral speech. Today, at age nine, he communicates verbally and supplements his communication with sign language. He attends school and is in a mainstream classroom. Coincidentally, Lucy Coleman, who was nonverbal for two years because of her Cerebral Palsy, began signing with Signing Time. Soon after, she began to speak and like our son, attends mainstream school.
Like children with Cerebral Palsy, kids with Autism can learn to communicate with sign language. The Signing Time website contains articles on signing with children with special needs and this section contains many articles specific to Autism.
If you are the parent or relative of a child whose communication is impacted because of Cerebral Palsy or Autism, do not despair. Sign language can be an effective means of communication for nonverbal children. Signing can help to alleviate the frustration your child faces without the ability to communicate.
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