Years before I had even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome, I happened upon the concept of teaching Sign Language to pre-verbal toddlers. Certainly every first-time parent marvels at the obvious understanding that young children display at understanding language before they can speak it.
Pre-kids, I remember watching a 14 month old boy follow instructions to fetch his shoes from the closet, even going back when he retrieved the wrong pair for “the shoes with blue stripes”. At that time, his vocabulary was limited to “mama”, “dada”, and I think “num nums”!!
Doesn’t it make sense that the brain can de-code strings of language before it can construct language? I mean, when I studied Spanish, I could understand my teacher way before I could put together a coherent sentence, or even answer a question. It’s kind of like the difference between a Multiple Choice test (easier)or a Fill In the Blank test (harder).
When I heard about working with Sign Language and Toddlers, it didn’t occur to me to seek out classes. I see there is one available locally that was featured in our newspaper. What a wonderful option!
We had very limited means, so I invented the signs that I used with my son. Now with the internet so readily available, it is easy to do a search on American Sign Language (ASL) and find some signs that are generally recognized. I Googled “ASL more” and clicked on Videos. Or you can go directly to YouTube and select from marvelous videos of parents working with babies on signing.
Our important words that greatly reduced Steven’s frustration were “More”, “book”, “drink”, “hungry”, “sleepy” and “dog”. Now I wish I had spent more time working on a more comprehensive sign vocabulary. I think it would have helped both of us!
You gotta figure that Aspergers toddlers are blessed with even higher capacity brains than their neuro-typical toddler counterparts, and their level of frustration at not being able to communicate is going to be exponentially higher. No wonder they have meltdowns! They have so much to say! And they can’t easily get their brain-mouth-tongue connection all together yet.
But their gross motor skills get developed far in advance of the fine motor skills required for language, and they can pick up and copy the signs for things before they can articulate the words. It is a mutual joy shared between parent and child when they are able to communicate through signing!