(with thanks to our contributor, Emma Walsh)
The Lodger’s (that’s our son with PWS) cousin aged 5 has an amazing understanding and tolerance of PWS. She’s grown up with PWS in her life and knows no difference. She's The Lodger’s best friend and already a member of the secret food police.
She comes running into the room,
“Auntie, we have a problem! The Lodger is saying he’s hungry and he’s just finished his snack, what are we going to do?”
I went in to talk to The Lodger, with my concerned niece by my side. I found him lying on the couch cushions on the floor, pretending to be asleep. He woke up, smiled and signed ‘eat’. He was playing. It was breakfast time. I explained to his very caring cousin, that he wasn’t really hungry, he was just using his hands to tell her he was hungry in the game. She smiled and the game resumed…
The Lodger has been using sign language since he was about 14 months old. As we live in Ireland, we use Lamh but it's not very different from Makaton (or other simple sign programs). Its simple signs help him communicate his needs. THe majority of the signs are very obvious and so it's very easy to learn and understand. Signing has eased The Lodger's frustrations. He's been able to tell us he's thirsty, tired, or wants to read books, all by using his hands. We started simply with 'eat' 'drink' and 'bed' which moved quickly to 'NO BED' when he learned to shake his head!
In the peak of The Lodgers sign usage, (before words) we probably had 50 to 60 signs that we used regularly - from activities like ‘drive car, walk, swim’, to animals like ‘cat, dog, rabbit, horse’, to feelings such as ‘happy, sad’ and words such as ‘more, finished and help’.
The problem being an adult brainwashed into doing 50 or 60 different signs is that in normal grown up interactions the signs slip in and people start to wonder if you are going mad.
At three years old now, The Lodger is starting to put two to three words together but still uses signs to get his point across, usually to emphasise the same point as above: ‘No bed!"
The lodger started Playschool last September and although he did have a few words, he was able to match them with a sign which was understood by his preschool assistant and teachers. Signing has really helped him with his independence. It’s been wonderful to see him dropping signs as he’s mastered the word and he loves the celebrations of learning new words!
When we were first told about signing, it was daunting. We weren't sure how quickly we’d pick it up or if it would be effective, never mind trying to teach a child without words. I can honestly say, it’s part of our day to day lives now- even though The Lodger can speak many words now, I’ll often see my husband sign ‘drink?’ while the Lodger responds with actual words. I’m guilty of not dropping the signs myself and often use signs and word combinations with The Lodger - and others!
Signing is not just for children with additional needs. I’ve encouraged friends with typical babies to use signing too, it’s easy to learn and a great tool to help your child be able to communicate with you! It's a fantastic bridge for the often frustrating communication gap before speaking comes naturally. Simple signing has really helped communication with The Lodger. The only problem nowadays is understanding his words when he refuses to sign to really make us work! I think we're learning as much as The Lodger these days. Two thumbs up to that!