We wouldn’t be without signing

Stella R
4th November 2013

Stella's baby daughter looking at a book


Expecting a speech delay when our unborn child was diagnosed with Down's syndrome, we embarked on learning to sign before she was even born. We started learning some basic Makaton signing that would be relevant like 'milk', 'mummy', 'daddy' and 'book/story', etc.

We started sharing books with her and signing the key signs when she was just a couple of weeks old.

Her first sign back to us came with 'more' - we had been teaching her (hand over hand) to tap her hand on top of our fist to sign 'more' when she wanted to repeat a game or story. At 10 months she would tap our fist without any help or prompt, and by 12 months she was signing uninitiated, to ask for more stories at bedtime!

Signs came thick and fast from 14 months onwards, when she also started to combine signs such as 'hungry' and 'food'.

By the age of 24 months (2 years), she could verbally say fewer than 10 words but she knew and used 240 signs! In comparison, children without a speech delay will speak approximately 100 words at the age of 2 and by 2½ years they will know approximately 300. So the beauty of signing for us was that we could see that our daughter had the same vocabulary as her peers, even if she couldn't yet form the words.

It also made her think of herself as a communicator. She initiated conversations (in sign) because she knew we would understand her and respond. It gave her confidence, allowed her to make choices, ask for things and make her feelings and ideas known. She made her own sign up for the Ninky-nonk in the Night Garden! She signed in her play and even signed in her dreams, giving me a wonderful insight into her world!

Just think of all the conversations and communications we would have missed out on had it not been for signing to bridge the gap.

In addition, signing proved invaluable for other things too:

  • As an eyesight test:  when she pointed at the ceiling and signed "fly" at the little black dot that I had to squint to see.  I knew there was nothing wrong with her eyesight!
  • As a hearing test: she knew the sign for 'mouse' and 'house' very well, but when she regularly misheard me and signed the wrong one, I knew her hearing was poor.
  • As a memory aid: for example recalling a sequence of events such as 'first do x and then y'. Or remembering 3 items. 
  • For speech clarification: my daughter's speech was unclear at first and so a sign differentiated her 'dare' as a chair, there or stairs! When she was trying to get me to understand what sounded like "doh-pan", I didn't have a clue until she signed 'saucepan'!

Once she was speaking more clearly, the signs dropped away naturally, although I still use them to communicate across a crowded room without the need for shouting! However, now at school, we have just found a new use for signing: finger spelling the alphabet has been invaluable for learning and remembering spellings, especially tricky words such as 'sword' and 'knight' which have silent letters in them that you can't hear!

Our family wouldn’t be without signing and will no doubt keep on finding uses for it into the future.

At home

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1 Comment

  • Patricia Sutton
    20 December 2015 20:20

    Oh! if only I could use this brilliant testimonial for signing when trying to dispel myths about signed communication whether it is BSL or Makaton. I am a profoundly deaf Makaton Regional Tutor and a BSL Tutor and also deliver Deaf Awareness training. The historical belief that signing prevents or hinders speech still prevails unfortunately, and this would be a great resource for my training sessions.