Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Encouraging Communication in Tactile Sign Language

Orion's right hand is on top of Anastasia's right hand as she holds him.  Orion is between Skyler and Anastasia who are shown from their smiles and below.  In Orion's left hand is a family-treasured wood toy giraffe with wheels.
Photo by Clare Cassidy, September 28, 2014.

We had a great tactile moment last night!  Orion was sitting up and I was laying on my side on the floor.  He lightly rested his hands on mine for what felt like a good 15-20 minutes.  I kept signing, “YOU ORION, ME MOM” and he followed my slow movements, smiling… he was definitely listening.  I didn't want to sign fast, causing him to lose contact of my hands while tactile signing. It was an intense, joyful moment seeing this progress between the two of us.  I hope for more at home and in school.

Musing an inside joke while eating.
November 24, 2014
I kid you not, the greatest moments from Orion happen when the camera is not around.  I would love to share pictures of these hand-to-hand moments!

What feels like a few months ago, Thomas and I noticed that Orion was not trying to use his hands to communicate the way we saw he did before.  We wondered if it were because Orion didn't get feedback or confirmation that his attempts to communicate meant something- such as possibly signing at night while we were asleep.  Another possibility is that we knew Orion well and gave him what he wanted or needed before he could ask for them.  Orion would also have periods of intense fussiness where he didn't feel well.  What's frustrating for us is that we don't know what's bothering him.  Orion is usually going to the doctor for one more reason than a typical kid- for the doctor to check him out and tell us what he/she sees is the problem if there is one to be found.  For example, last week, his dentist told us he had a new molar and another one butting it's way through Orion's gums.  We probably wouldn't have figured that out on our own. 

We remembered several important things we needed to practice with Orion: 

  1. Wait, wait, and wait for him to sign or gesture even if we know (or think we know) what it is going to be about; 
  2. Using tactile ASL or touch cues (a.k.a. signs on his body) to label as many actions or touched objects as we can, slowly, repeatedly, at least 2 to 3 times depending on how often the object comes into touch; and 
  3. Make sure to pause, creating opportunities for him to reply or explore the situation at his own pace.
Orion does not have any usable vision since birth, thus the importance for him to touch, explore, observe, process and apply whatever he touches and experiences.

We ramped up our efforts around a month ago.  We've seen the return of "FOOD or APPLE" during the last couple weeks; we started seeing "BREAD" again a few days ago and then last night that new, beautiful moment occurred!  

"HURT" is another sign we continue to work on, being careful to show it clearly different from "MORE".  The motions of both hands coming together are similar but use of fingers are different.  When we sign on his body, it will feel the same and that is why we are working on Orion putting his hands on ours, knowing he will feel the difference between the 1-fingered "HURT" sign and the all-digits-in "MORE" sign.

Introducing "HURT" is abstract to him, we are not creating opportunities for labeling that!  When he has an owie he's touching or if we saw him bump his head, we sign "HURT".  One day he will be able to tell us himself where something is bothering him.  I know he'll agree that the less doctor visits, the better.

Back to the work of love we go!

Two brothers, Orion and Skyler, bask in the sunshine at home.
November 25, 2014

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