Sunday, February 17, 2013

Driving While Tactile Signing

Communicating with our kids while driving sure is an interesting challenge. Hearing kids can speak to hearing parents; if either or both parent and child are Deaf the line is usually, “Wait for a red light,” or, “wait til the road straightens out,” etc. In a “Deaf” vehicle, the rear view mirror is heavily used! What about a totally Deafblind child? It does happen! I was pleasantly surprised this evening.

We decided to eat at Freebirds on the way back home from Grandna’s home (Thomas’ mom). Orion enjoyed some chips and quesadilla bites but we knew he was going to fuss about milk any minute so we hit the road for home. We had Pediasure but no bottle. Oops. That’s what happens when you have too many things to think of to bring. What happened next was so cool!

Orion was doing the “No” head motion that usually accompanies his fussing. I was driving and reached back with my right hand to rub his leg hoping to soothe him. He found my hand and squeezed it urgently, signing “MILK”. I squeezed “MILK” and signed “WAIT” (*) right back at/on his hand/lower arm. Orion then escalated to full-on crying.

We were home in less than five long-hurried minutes and he settled down when he got his bottle.

(*Wait is an abstract concept. I would say he doesn’t understand time concepts yet but I don’t want to assume that. I always use “WAIT” for situations where he will need to wait a minute.)


  1. That makes sense to sign so he could feel it. Just make driving difficult, but kudos for you for finding a creative way!

  2. Thank you for your wonderful blog! I have really enjoyed reading it. Our son also has anophthalmia and can hear but is two and still not seeming to understand verbal language but sign is appearing to make sense to him. Is there a good resource on tactile signing you would recommend? Right now we have just adapted the signs we know to be tactile, but are running out of ways to make them different enough and be tactile at the same time. He is not ready for signing in his hand and complicated signs would probably be hard too. Thanks!

  3. Hi Melinda! I want to make sure I understand you right- what you are describing sounds like they are touch cues. I used to call them "signing on the body" before I found out they're often called touch cues. There's only so many spaces on the body. Tactile signing is where the DB person feels the other person signing. The good news is that there is no limit to the sign language vocabulary! :)

    I still use touch cues basically for milk, eat/open mouth, diaper (signing on Orion's body) but I am starting to sign on myself and he happens to hold onto a finger or if I'm lucky his entire hand is on my hand when I sign Mom, more, milk on myself and not on him. Milk as touch cue for us is squeezing his forearm, milk as a tactile sign is signing it normally as you would do to another sighted person but he is feeling it with his hands. In the case of this blog post about driving, I was the person not seeing but feeling him sign milk!

    Not so simple, I know.

    If I've totally missed your question, let me know and I'll try again, happily. Your son is a lucky little guy to have a wonderful mom in you looking for opportunities! I think you have given me inspiration for a future blog post.

  4. Thank you for your response and for your kind words. Yes, they are touch cues right now (still getting the terminology down so thank you for clarifying). We are currently using touch cues for eat, drops (ear drops), diaper, bath, bib, more, and all done. He seems to understand them all but only possibly sign more himself. Still unsure on that one but I do have a video at if you want to see what you think and you have more experience. Perhaps then we are just at the point where soon he will hopefully reach out an feel us sign. He still rarely allows hand under hand at this point but maybe through the desire to know what we are communicating this will come soon. Is there a form of sign you would recommend for when he hopefully begins reaching out for tactile signs? I know some American Sign but am not sure if that is the best to use or not.
    Thank you for all your excellent posts! I love reading them. Sorry to do this all by comment. I could not get to your email as I don't have an Apple computer. Please feel free to email me if you would be able to communicate further. Your expertise would be greatly appreciated. I know you are really busy so I understand if that isn't possible right now. I will watch for your post for sure though. Thanks again!