Monday, May 22, 2006
It's times like this when I feel like a terrible Mom. Owen has reached a huge milestone in his young life and I have forgotten the date it all started. I am looking back at my calendar and I am going to take a stab at it and guess that it happened on Tuesday, May 2nd. Dana & Emily - please jump in with a comment and correct me if I am wrong. I have put off posting this because I was going to work my way back into those missing weeks where I fell behind in posting updates, but I don't know that I'll ever manage to catch up on what we missed, now Owen hit a second target and I can't put it off any longer.
Dana and Emily were over for their regular weekly visits and as per usual, the minute Em walked through the door, Owen lifted Em's arms up to show her that he wanted her to do jumping jacks for him. It's quite comical to watch. Emily exhausts herself with the exercise while Owen jumps up and down on the spot, flapping his hands and grinning from ear to ear. He loves it. Whenever she stops, he moves her hands back in place to start it all over again. This time, I asked Emily to not accomodate Owen until we could get him to request it appropriately. We have been working on teaching the sign to Owen for "more", for months, but it never really seemed to stick. We would have Emily do a couple of jumps, then stop. Owen would prompt her to lift her arms and we would say the word "more?", we would demonstrate the sign for "more", then hand-over-hand place Owen's hands in position to sign it. The second he signed it (with our hands guiding), we would say "good! more!" and Em would immediately start jumping again. Em's jumps were only a few at a time and as this progressed, we would gradually change the method of how to guide Owen. We went from hand-over-hand, to holding his elbows and pressing them towards the motion, to simply tapping his elbows to prompt him to do it himself, to not touching him at all, to no longer giving him the visual prompt or example of our signing the word, to not even saying the word and just sitting and waiting quietly to see if he would do it himself. After about 45 minutes of this (and poor Em getting VERY tired), Dana, Jake, Emily and I waited very patiently, Owen looked around the room and very purposefully signed "more" while we all cheered and clapped. This got him so excited that every time he did the sign, he would turn to glance at all of us to see if we would cheer.
I cannot tell you how proud of him I was. Who would have thought watching your child tap his fingers together would bring me so much joy. But it did. The word "more" has done more than prove to us that Owen is a smart kid who can learn new skills. But it has given him a voice and opened up a door to a whole new world. You can honestly see it in his face that he has a sense of pride because he has found a way to communicate his needs and wants to us. I can tell you that we didn't deny Owen much of anything in the first couple of weeks after he learned that sign. How can you say no to him when he wants more chips, even though you know it's ruining his supper. It's a beautiful thing.
I have tried to explain to Emily how wonderful it is that she played the most important role in teaching this skill to Owen. If it weren't for her patience, her persistence and her gentle way with Owen, I think it would have taken us a few more months before we would have accomplished this. She should be very proud of herself and she will always be a very important figure in our boys' lives.
So naturally, we obviously want to build on Owen's new skill and teach him some more concrete words. "More" is great, but it's very abstract and can be used in the place of any and all nouns. We obviously don't want Owen taking the easy way out and only signing "more" when he should be saying "books", "help", "open", "crackers", "music" or "milk". We are currently working on the sign for "milk" and he isn't quite there where he will voluntarily sign it by himself, we still have to use hand-over-hand. We've also got the sign down for "book", but there hasn't been much motivation for him to request a book when he knows he can find one for himself.
Owen loves the mirror. You can often catch him making faces and gestures into the reflection from the television, a mirror or the drain cap in the bathtub. The other day I started paying closer attention to his gestures and realized there was a pattern to his hand motions. When I studied them, I realized that he was doing the gestures to Sharon, Lois and Bram's Skinnamarink song. He would put one hand at the opposite elbow, then the other, then point two index fingers into his cheeks below his eyes as if he was saying "I", cross his arms over himself like a hug... when I said "Skinnamrinky-diny-dink" he jumped up and down as if to say "You get it! I want you to sing it!". He put my own arms and hands into position to prompt me to start singing. Diane sings this song with Owen, over and over again, so I knew that it was a favourite of his. I was thrilled and also felt a pang of guilt that Owen has probably be trying to communicate this to me before and I had never noticed.
Last Thursday Auntie Boom came over for a visit. We sang a few songs for the kids (I'll spare you the agony of hearing an audio clip) and Owen kept signing "more". I mentioned to Steph that I've been working on the sign for music (click on the highlighted word and it will take you to a site to show you how to sign the word yourself) so we set out to follow the same method that Emily and I had used for "more". Skinnamarink was the song of choice and I'm sure that we worked on it for an hour, but never really got past doing the sign hand-over-hand with Owen. He was pretty ticked off with us that we were making him work for something that he was used to getting for free. We finally gave up, but we were proud because he had signed "music" at least twice on his own so we knew he could do it. No new attempts were made in the following days, but I was sitting on the couch yesterday and Owen ran over to me and made the sign out of nowhere! I was so excited. I sang his favourite songs to him (at least someone loves my voice) and he went on for an hour requesting "more music". Owen's version of the sign is a lot simpler than the ASL version. He simply rubs his right hand over his left arm, but we know what he's saying..
It's been quite a month for Owen and it's just the beginning. It's important to know that we are not only spending the time on Owen to learn how to communicate. Efforts have been made with Will, but he doesn't have the patience to sit with us through trial after trial and usually gets mad when we try to hold his hands into place. Will is babbling like crazy and we suspect that he may never sign and just move straight into speaking real words, while Owen might sign first and maybe entertain the thought of talking.
For anyone who would like to learn some signs, there is a pretty cool website that shows you a video clip of someone signing individually selected words that you can search through. Check out http://commtechlab.msu.edu/sites/aslweb/browser.htm
N.B. Stephanie is personally responsible for Owen learning "music"
at 11:05 AM