Chad was born in February 1992. Even before I left the recovery room, a doctor came in and told me he had Down Syndrome. When he was older he was also diagnosed with Autism
At 6 weeks of age, the school did an assessment and started his early intervention program the following week. The teacher told me that learning sign language would help him. I never expected anything like that. How was I to do this? The teacher began teaching sign language by using a musical top. She would spin it for only a few seconds and when it stopped, she asked Chad “more?” She would say and sign “more” and spin it again. Chad got the hang of “more” quickly because of his passion for music and things that ‘spin’. Once he understood that signing “more” resulted in action, we were well on our way to speaking with sign language.
The first three signs Chad learned were “more”, “book” and “wrestle”. He was learning new signs at home and at school. I soon realized that the school and I were using different signs for the same word. This was the motivation for creating Talking with Baby.
At age 2 ½ it was time for Chad to go to pre-school. A Personal Care Attendant went with him to track signs he was learning at school and bring the notes home for me. At pre-school he was introduced to a ‘Sit and Spin’. He loved it so much his Personal Care Attendant gave him one. One day he came to me demanding ‘something’. It was a struggle to figure it out, but what he wanted was not only the’ Sit and Spin’, but he wanted to know what to call it. Trying to think on my feet with my limited words in sign language, I called it the “yellow spin”, using the sign for ‘yellow’ and using the forefinger on my right hand to ‘spin’. To this day his ‘Dizzy Disk’ (larger version of the ‘Sit and Spin’) is signed and referred to as (in his words) the “la-la pin”.
Teaching and learning sign language has changed our lives. Chad knows well over 1000 signs and even though he tries to use words, if I cannot understand him, he needs to use sign. I truly appreciate the wonderful benefits of sign language. If we are in the community and there’s a behavior problem, signing has helped me out of many embarrassing and sometimes dangerous situations. I simply stop talking and start signing. He responds with sign and we can leave the area without anyone noticing and my son can maintain his dignity.
Chad was asked to be a co-best man at Pete and Rachel’s wedding when he was 13 years old. It was such an honor for him and fun to see him in his first tuxedo. Pete has been a care-giver for Chad since the summer of 2001. After working with Chad, Pete decided to complete his master’s degree in special education and convinced his wife to do the same. Pete and Rachel are a wonderful addition to Chad’s world.
Today Chad’s deaf and hard of hearing teacher continues to prepare him for his adult world by teaching him new signs applicable to his vocational program and safety signs he will encounter in the community. I am confident he will enjoy a fun social life in his adulthood. All because of sign language!