Introducing Sign Language Focusing on Autism

I am very excited to introduce a guest post for today.  When Jaylen was non verbal at the age of a year we started using some simple signs.  As he got older, yet still couldn’t communicate verbally, we had to use signing as our only means of communication.  Using signs helped reduce the number of massive tantrums he was having several times a day due to his inability to process what we were saying and verbalize his wants and needs.  Whether you are new to signing with children, or you have done some in the past, you will find Misty’s post informative and convincing.

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One of the most frustrating things about autism is the difficulties around communication. The complexities of spoken language can be problematic for children with autism, leading to frustration for both child and parent. Sign language acts as a bridge for communication that strengthens the development of speech and language. Learning sign language at any age provides lots of benefits for children with autism.

Development Of Speech And Language
While spoken language is still developing, all babies and young children find gestures and symbols easier to understand than speech. Pictures and gestures switch on areas of the brain that are inactive without spoken language. Gestures create ‘visual associations’, which are easier for children with autism to learn and understand. In this way, sign language doesn’t replace speech, but acts as a pathway to its development.

Tantrums And Anxiety
Children with autism sometimes display negative behaviors such as tantrums, anxiety and aggression. In all children, these behaviors are much worse when a child can’t communicate what he needs. Sign language gives children a tool for communication, reducing the frustration that children with autism feel if they can’t express themselves. Sign language reduces frustration-based behavior by removing some of the frustration.

Social Interaction And Sign Language
One of the great things about sign language is that it provides a communication tool for children with autism. This is great for the child but it is also wonderful for the parent. Communication is a two way process, so signing also gives parents a useful tool. Communication is a positive spiral – when a child communicates successfully and feels understood he has the confidence to try again. Confidence in the ability to communicate is essential for good social interactions.

Teaching Sign Language To Children With Autism
Sign language is a wonderful tool for children with autism, and for their families and teachers. There are difficulties, however. Let’s look at some of these and how they can be overcome…

Focus  And Attention
Because sign language is primarily a visual type of communication it requires the ability to focus intensely for significant periods. In some cases, children with autism have attention deficits which can prevent sign language from being taught successfully. Even in these situations, sign language can be used as part of a package of communication skills, providing the emphasis is on understanding being signed to, not necessarily signing back.

Isolation
Depending on where in the world you live, sign language may or may not be a well-known form of communication. In some parts of the world, although sign language is beneficial to a child with autism it could isolate him from those who do not know sign language. It’s best to encourage all of those who have regular contact with your child to learn a few important signs, including family, friends and teachers.

Unique Benefits
We know that autism affects each child in a unique way. There is no one right way to proceed when improving communication. The benefits of sign language will be unique to each child. In a few severe cases sign language may not be as helpful as it is to others. It has, however, proved helpful to many families, and must be worth a try.

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This guest post is brought to you by Baby Sign Language. We are here to help answer all your Baby Signing questions. Be sure to also check out the FREE Baby Sign Language Flash Cards.

Brain Rotting Fun?

When Jaylen was a year old, he had a tendency to become addicted to certain things.  We didn’t know it was Autism yet, but knew him not connecting with us, retreating into his own world, and filling and dumping buckets for hours was strange.  I can still hear his first home therapist’s nervous and appalled laughter as she told me not to let him fill and dump or play with dirt for more than a half hour.  Who knew?  I thought he was just really independent.

One of his “things” was TV.  He loved certain shows and could watch Noggin (now Nick Jr.) for hours on end.  I always judged those parents who let the TV babysit their kids before I had kids of my own.  For us, the only alternative to tantrums, self injurious behavior, the constant filling and dumping, or spinning in circles was TV.  So we let him watch.

Fast forward 4 years and Jaylen is really not into TV much at all.  He will request an episode of SpongeBob most days.  According to him, “I don’t watch little kid shows anymore, just big kid ones.”  Which is crap because as soon as Xavi is watching a “little kid” show his eyes are glued to the screen.

In the winter, we watch more TV out of cabin fever and boredom.  Now the weather is nice, we are out most of the day, and when we come in the TV just stays off.  As long as they are not asking for it, why use it?  Every once in a while they will be hyper or fighting and TV is a good way to calm them down.  Sometimes I need to get work done and the TV does babysit for a half hour.  Overall, it does feel good to find other things to do besides TV.

The boys in 2009
The boys in 2010

Am I one of those people that thinks TV rots kids’ brains?  No.
Do I think it may affect their attention span?  Yes.
Can we find other things for our kids to do to get exercise, interact socially, and learn actively?  Easily.
But do I love when I get a minute to myself as Chuggington is blaring from the playroom?  Absolutely.

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I did it for…

I walked for Jaylen.

I walked for all the kids I know with Autism, who are loving, sometimes frustrated, special kids.

I walked for frustrated parents doing the best they can.

I walked for the parents who just got the diagnosis and are confused, sad, lost, and hopeful.

I walked for people who raise awareness, promote understanding, and do the research to help our kids.

I walked for Jaylen.

(In the pictures: me, my husband Gerald, Jaylen, Xavier, my Mother-in-law “Mimi,” and my sister “Aunt D”)

You Choose: A Brat or A Behavior Disorder

I knew Jaylen was different by the time he was 6 months old.  By one year of age he did not connect with us, was often in his own little world, and was hooked on repetitive actions.  At 16 months, when he was still non verbal despite scoring normally on hearing tests, we began the evaluation/diagnosis journey.

Tantrums were the other huge indication something was “off.”  At the height of his behavior issues, he would tantrum almost every hour, which left he and I exhausted and confused.  Jaylen’s inability to sleep through the night, common for kids with Autism, ensured we were also sleep deprived.

I called a friend who specializes in infants and toddlers with Autism. She told me he was tantrumming for reasons, despite my insistence they came from nowhere.  Sometimes, I knew he was frustrated or annoyed.  Other times I was completely baffled:  Was it pain somewhere he couldn’t communicate?  Did he want me to play a different way?  Did he need more or less stimulation?  Having a non verbal child is frustrating, sad, and incredibly trying.  I give thanks everyday Jaylen was able to learn to communicate.


Sometimes these tantrums would be severe, last up to an hour, and involve self injurious behavior, broken objects, and blood chilling screams.  At the time I thought nothing could be worse.  I felt sorry for myself and hated Autism with a vengeance.  I was beside myself and at the end of each day wondered how I could make it through another.

I assumed neuro-typical terrible two’s would be simple compared to what I went through with Jaylen.  Was I wrong or what?  This kid is a brat!  Those “typical” toddler issues I had read and heard parents complain about are happening and they are loathsome.

Xavier yells at me in full comprehensive sentences.  He tells me how things are going to be.  When he doesn’t get his way he throws things, hits, and bites.  Jaylen couldn’t even say no until he was almost 3, which killed me at the time, but now I almost appreciate.  At least Xavier warns us by yelling, “I’m gonna frow (throw) this fish stick” or whichever object has him upset at the moment.  Oh and the incessant whining…I don’t even want to go there.

Which is worse?  A kid with Autism, SPD, and ODD?  Or a bratty two year old?  I’m going with the two year old.  Maybe it’s because the two year old terror is my current reality. I definitely have more respect for “normie” parents right now.  I realize it’s not all butterflies and rainbows with the omission of special needs.

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