Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Advocacy #12: Learn some sign

If we can accept that 1) behavior is communication and 2) people who have special needs don’t need to be shuttled off to their own separate events in their own separate places, then we probably need to address the ways that we can help make reasonable accommodations to the environment so that all can be included.

A lot of people who have special needs have trouble with communication.  Maybe their ears don’t hear in a typical way, or their mouth has some difficulty with the words, or they need some extra time to process what is being said or expressed… there are a lot of reasons that a person may need extra support with communication.

In our world, we have relied heavily on sign language to communicate with Tessa.  Back when she was quite young, I struggled with whether or not to introduce sign.  As a language teacher, I know the value of input and I thought that inputting both words and signs would keep her from learning to speak.

I was wrong.

There is a decent amount of research that shows that using sign can actually enhance the ability of all children to express themselves and learn to use speech (see an overview of the research with citations from Signing Time here).  For us, it has been very powerful.  Tessa does have a few words (no, moo, down, definitely some others) and coincidentally, most of the words that she says are not the ones that she signs.  She also has a lot of feelings.  Her signs help her communicate those feelings and mean less frustration for both of us!!!  Her use of sign is strong; she has about 15-20 consistent signs that she can use in a variety of ways (mostly to ask for “more cookies please”).

Everyone in the world does not need to go out and learn a bunch of sign.  It probably wouldn’t hurt if you wanted to pick up a sign or two… maybe more if you are going to need to communicate with Tessa on a regular basis.  More importantly, you can advocate for the needs of others by accepting that people will communicate in a different way than you do and by practicing patience as they process and work to express themselves.

I cannot stress this enough – the more we can support and normalize some of the needs that people have, the less marginalized they might feel.  The less marginalized people feel, the better we are as a society.


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