Archive for the ‘Signing Time’ Category

Lately, I’ve noticed that Nik has some difficulty with specific control over individual fingers; he still does not point and has some difficulty isolating his index finger to poke things with any consistency. Not surprising is that he also has trouble turning his wrists outward. He can roll them in toward each other just fine. I don’t know if this is a permanent feature due to his cerebral palsy or if it’s something that can be helped with OT. Only time and effort will tell for sure.

Meanwhile, it does make for some interesting sign language. As with most kids who are learning signs for the first time, Nik tends to modify many of the signs to suit his physical ability. Children tend to learn the signs which come in toward their bodies sooner or easier than those which reach away from them. For example, more— which is signed by tapping your thumb and fingertips of both hands together —is easier for a child to sign than play which is signed by folding the middle three fingers down so the thumb and little finger make a “Y” then gently rocking them back and forth.

But I digress with my rudimentary sign instruction!

Nik’s picked up lots of signs since we began using the Signing Time videos several months ago; rather, I should say he’s picked up lots of words. The signs, well, many of them look kind of similar. I like to think of them as multipurpose signs. I don’t know if Nik signs this way because it’s physically easier or if it’s mentally easier —he already knows the one sign and “the other is sorta kinda similar…” but not really. Here are Nik’s equivalents:

Please = Yes
More = Shoes
Book = Open
Share = Show Me
Bye-Bye = Play

He also knows how to sign eat, apple, cat, and cheese (gotta love that Silly Pizza Song!). He understands many more signs such as sit, stop, no, drink, wait, ready, up, down, outside, want, diaper, toy, car, and others.

I’ve been working with him to learn some signs for other toys he has so he can be more specific in his requests; it’s challenging when he stands at the armoire and looks up at that basket and simply signs please. So it was with great delight that I watched him express a desire for a different toy this weekend —a ball —one he doesn’t yet have a sign for.

This request was unusual because he doesn’t’ generally care to play with balls, though this particular ball holds him in thrall. I started to try to teach him the sign for ball; basically you cup your hands loosely and touch the fingertips together suggesting the shape of a ball.

Again, Nik had difficulty manipulating his fingers so he improvised. Here’s his newest equivalent:

Ball is now the same as…


That’s a mighty big cheese ball! (Cheese is signed by mashing your palms together and slightly twisting them.)

Not to be confused with a big cheese of another sort…

(Taken 10/03/08 at this event.)

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It’s been a very slow process for me to get around to reviewing the newest Baby Signing Time offerings, Volume 3: A New Day and Volume 4: Let’s Be Friends. It’s not because I didn’t want to; it’s because every time I put the DVD into the player and started to watch it with Nik he would get very upset. Nik, as many of my regular readers know, is a huge fan of Signing Time. He is not, however, a huge fan of anything which remotely smacks of change from the expected routine. It’s one of his non-negotiable autistic traits and we just sort of roll with it as best we can. Some days it’s smooth sailing and others, well…(shrugs shoulders).

As it was Nik had a difficult transition to the “new” Signing Time opening and the “new” format with Hopkins when we bought the first set of videos. We’d been checking them out of our local library; that was a feat since our state library system only has one copy of four different videos in their collection. Yes, that’s right; one copy of each and there’s a very long waiting list.

So, I finally was able to make the time to sit at my computer and watch Baby Signing Time all by myself. Okay, right there is a ringing endorsement, folks! The videos are so good that I was perfectly willing to watch them alone. Of course, I also enjoy watching some of the Disney Channel offerings so maybe that’s not such a ringing endorsement after all. You decide.

I must disclose up front that I watched these videos with a definite bias. I tend to filter many things through the lens of my son’s various learning challenges which include difficulty with fine motor control and difficulty processing a lot of busy or complex visual information. He is very much an auditory and tactile learner, preferring to learn by doing. His first attempts at communication were actually humming the tunes of very specific songs I used to sing to him to do things such as changing his diaper or brushing his teeth. The musical element of the Signing Time videos is sometimes critical to Nik’s ability to learn and recall the signs he has learned. If I hum a snippet of the song relating to the sign he wants to recall he is able to do so.

On the whole, I loved the Baby Signing Time videos. They are very different in tone and feel from the Signing Time series with which we are now so familiar in our house. I will say up front that I won’t buy them for use with my son simply because the transition would too traumatic at this point. However, if I were just starting out with signing and Nik were a bit younger? I’d own them all.

Overall, I think the videos are well structured and geared toward the pre-preschool age group. The overall look of the Baby Signing Time videos is simpler, less active or visually cluttered and the emphasis is on building concepts as well as vocabulary. In the songs, I think Rachel’s signing is more focused on the specific signs being taught. My experience of the songs in the Signing Time series is that they are richer in signing additional vocabulary; they can be a nice way to pick up some new signs as you go. In Baby Signing Time, the simplicity serves a good purpose in keeping it uncluttered or visually uncomplicated for small children who have shorter attention spans and who may not be able to follow along quite as quickly as an older child.

The repetitive vocalization and signing, combined with both real life and cartoon representations, and layered with music, can reach a multitude of learning styles —auditory (both spoken and sung), tactile, visual (both literal and representational images). The introduction of the cartoons interspersed with real life examples can actually help children make the cognitive leap to symbolic representation. This is a very critical step for many non-verbal children as so many early communication systems —especially in schools —rely on some form of picture exchange system.

In Volume 3: A New Day, I think some of the words and concepts may not be as meaningful or motivational to small children. That said it does give parents a way of introducing and layering language to describe a child’s environment. I don’t know that I would expect a small child to tell me about the sun or rain —I know many preschoolers who struggle with some of those concepts; my son can no more tell me what the weather is like outside but he can tell me he wants his book. None the less, I suppose it’s sort of like advanced vocabulary words; nice to aspire to and enough of a stretch to keep advanced learners interested.

I really like how Rachel plays dress up in the different segments. At first, I thought it a bit hokey, but after thinking about it I can see that for many children it can encourage creative play. Also, I think many young children will think it’s silly or funny and that, too, can be a huge reinforcer. Let’s face it; some people remember jokes better than straight facts! I’m not sure which I liked best —Rachel in her giant sunglasses kicking back in the Adirondack chair or Rachel with the bug antennae and being all squirmy and squiggly! It’s very cute.

I found the content of Volume 4: Let’s Be Friends more applicable on a day to day basis at a younger age. I think there were more of the words most commonly used in a daily routine —names of some common foods, how to start to express yourself, opposites, and feelings. I almost wish the two volumes had been reversed. Many children are learning about feelings, foods, and toys before they are going out into the world and learning (or expressing things) about the weather. Really, it’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things as I think all of the material presented in the videos is wonderful and engaging.

Another complaint —and it may have simply slipped past me, though I tend to notice these things more since Nik was born —is that it seemed to me there was significantly less use of overtly disabled children in the Baby Signing Time videos than in the Signing Time videos. I don’t know if this was an intentional choice or if it’s simply the way they were edited. I saw lots of children with Down syndrome but I did not see any children with things like braces or wheelchairs or even any obvious motor impairment. I think it’s important to expose young children —and their parents —to children with disabilities as just part of the normal course of daily living. I know that this is equally important to the folks at Two Little Hands Productions so I was a bit surprised at the omission.

Finally, I do have to say that I have a real love-hate relationship with some of the songs Rachel uses at the end of the videos. I love them because they are wonderful songs rich with meaning. I hate them because they are loaded with meaning for me as a parent of a child with multiple special needs. I cannot listen to “Show Me a Sign” without crying a river. The words remind me of all the things my child is not yet able to express in spite of his obvious intellect and desire to do so. Also, I think knowing a bit of the history behind songs such as “Tiny Hands” makes them more poignant.

The third offering on the DVD I was sent, Elizabeth Barrett Can Read is an inspiring account of a little girl with remarkable communication skills who began reading at the age of thirteen months. It should be noted that her mother, Katy Barrett, is a speech pathologist and that she was not actively teaching Elizabeth to read. Katy acknowledges that communication comes easily for Elizabeth; she states “Obviously, she’s got some special abilities to be able to do this.” Katy also says she believes the visual nature of signing helped Elizabeth connect the symbols (signs) to the letters she saw on screen and to the meaning of the words. I can’t help but wonder, though, if Elizabeth is possibly hyperlexic. Clearly, Elizabeth is a very strong visual learner with an ability to recognize letters and patterns of words and language. While I think Elizabeth Barrett is absolutely not your typical young learner, I think there can be little doubt as to the power of layering language in so many ways. As Katy says, there are so many children who don’t have communication tools and sign language can be a bridge for them.

The nice thing is that it’s never too late to start.

See clips from from the newest Baby Signing Time videos here:

Volume 3: A New Day

Volume 4: Let’s Be Friends

Visit Signing Time to find out how you can get your own Signing Time or Baby Signing Time products today.

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Nikolas is still in the process of learning how to communicate choices. Tough for a nonverbal little guy with lots to say. It’s not a precise science; more of an inexact, interpretive art which we practice every chance we get.
A typical encounter usually goes something like this:

Me: Nik, do you want to watch Mary Poppins? Can you tell Mommy yes or no?
Nik: (No response.)
Me: How about Signing Time? Can you tell Mommy yes or no?
Nik: (No response.)
Me: (Holding out the cases for the respective DVDs) Nikolas, can you show Mommy which one you want?
Nik: (Takes one of the cases from my hand.)
Me: Oh, you want Signing Time? Okay.
Nik: (Throws Signing Time to the floor and takes Mary Poppins from my hand.)
Me: Oh, okay, you want Mary Poppins instead?
I put Mary Poppins in the player; as the opening credits begin, Nik wails in frustration and flings the case to the floor.
Me: (sighing) Nik, do you want Signing Time instead? Can you use your words to show me, please?
Nik: Pats his chest to say “Yes, please.”

Me: Nik, do you want to watch Mary Poppins? Can you tell Mommy yes or no?
Nik: (No response.)
Me: How about Signing Time? Can you tell Mommy yes or no?
Nik: (No response.)
Me: (Holding out the cases for the respective DVDs) Nikolas, can you show Mommy which one you want?
Nik: (Takes one of the cases and very deliberately presses it against his lips in a kiss.)
Me: (Startled) Oh! You want Signing Time?
Nik: (Points his right index finger into the palm of his left hand —sign language for “show”— then pats his chest to say “please.” As soon as Rachel appears on-screen, Nik begins to clap wildly.)
You could have knocked me over with Yankee Doodle’s feather!

Happy Independence Day, indeed!

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It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around here; One day we’re up, the next we’re down and then we bounce right back up again! It seems that my recent weeks-long bout of sluggish energy and really poor concentration— to the point that I have felt the need to nap after working out and couldn’t remember what I’d said or done mere hours before— and a few other symptoms, including the muscle cramps and migraines I had at the end of last week, may have been the result of a fairly significant potassium deficiency. With my efforts to lose weight (pretty much at a standstill right now) and my working out quite vigorously, it seems I don’t consume enough potassium in the normal course of my day to sustain the amount I actually sweat out of my body.

Good thing my husband, the LPN, is such a smart guy! He caught it and bought some potassium supplements yesterday. After taking a few doses throughout the course of the day, most of my symptoms cleared up by mid afternoon. By this morning I felt more “normal” than I have felt in a few weeks! I even had a great workout and felt completely revitalized afterward. Wow. Now I know the signs to watch out for —and what to do, too!


As I’ve mentioned a time or two, Nik has become enamored of Signing Time videos. The progress he has made in the short time we’ve been watching them is, to me, nothing short of amazing. (Don’t believe me? See here, here, or here!) Lately, Nik has been making such clear efforts to communicate —including asking for help— and having fewer and fewer instances of extreme frustration which lead to potentially self-injurious behaviors. Of course, I’ve learned many more signs than Nik but he watches and takes it all in —even if he cannot replicate the signs he sees. We’re learning how to adapt and helping Nik find ways to make choices and needs or wants known; whenever possible, I ask him to “use your words” or “show me your words” as I model them for him.

We’ve progressed to auditory and visual scanning in many cases, too! When I know what Nik wants, I will play a game with him and present— with both words and signs—a variety of choices including the one I know he wants. When I get to the one he wants, Nik will often sign “please.” Then I will say “Oh, you want Mommy to open the box?” for example. “Can you use your words? Can you show Mommy how you say open?” All the while I am showing him the sign so he can imitate me. When he has shown me the sign for what he wants, I ask Nik to use his “nice words.” [One of the ST videos has a great song about Please, Share, Your Turn, My Turn, and Thank You.] He almost always signs “please” or “thank you!”

Much to my surprise and delight, Nik has recently begun imitating the intonation of certain words. When I am expecting to see him signing something, lately Nik has instead been making the tonal sounds of the word as he simultaneously signs “please.” I’m still getting used to the idea that I have to listen more closely to the specific sounds he is making and put them in the right context.

The layering of language in the videos is so effective; the music and printed words, the singing, the video modeling by both adults and children —of all walks of life and abilities, is so powerful that I often find Nik gesticulating wildly in an effort to try to communicate! He knows he is “signing” in his own way. I must confess; it’s adorable to see though it’s not always easy to interpret!

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that these videos have changed our lives significantly. I’ve also not made any mystery of my desire to own the series but they are not cheap!


Back in May, I filled in at the last minute for a parent-presenter at a conference which focused on how to build successful relationships with and work with practitioners —primarily educators, therapists, and medical professionals— to advocate for causes relating to our children with special needs. It was an honor to have been asked and I wasn’t sure what I had to contribute; the professional I was partnered with had things well in hand. But, I willingly stepped up and served where I was needed. It was a tremendously enlightening and fulfilling day; I was surprised to find out— after the fact— that I was to receive a stipend! My past experience with stipends for this sort of work has been that it’s really a small amount which might cover the cots of gas. Imagine my surprise last week when I received a fairly sizable check in the mail!

I’m not talking about a buy-a-new-wardrobe kind of check but something in the neighborhood of a buy-a couple-of-nice-outfits check.

I finally decided to buy this; it arrived today! I threw in a copy of this, too; it makes me weepy and emotional sometimes!

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If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of
it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.

~William Shakespeare~

While he may lack the prodigiousness of the Bard, Nikolas seems to be experiencing an explosion of communication lately. Not just in the generic cooing and babbling which he often does, or even the “singing” of certain songs/tunes —though he has been singing more in context to indicate an activity or desire, come to think of it.

No, Nik really seems to be catching on to this whole communication gig. We’re having some mixed successes with the actual AAC devices; Nik is making good progress with sequencing but the whole bit about conscious choice-making with the push of a button? Sporadic at best. I’ve been working with Nik’s speech therapist, Miss M, on finding ways to develop this skill. We are both thinking waaay outside the box here. Nik really is not cued in to visual symbols yet but is keen on music. We’re working on some ideas to incorporate a snippet of music —like a line of a song from a video he likes— only spoken, not sung, and coupled with a visual representation so he has to hit the button if he wants to actually hear the music.

So, when you add in the powerful motivator of music, with Nik’s new found crush on Rachel, and his intense desire to eat… well, you get something like this:

(For clarity: the sign for apple is made by rubbing your knuckle in a small motion in the apple of your cheek. Children who are just learning to sign —or those with fine motor impairments —often use approximations rather than precisely mimicking the sign.)

Now, the video is obviously set up but I did so in response to Nik actively requesting a piece of apple from me at dinner time. TWICE and without prompting!

In addition to the spontaneous signing —in the correct context, too, as he signed “eat” and then “apple” in succession —Nik has also begun mimicking the intonation of certain words or phrases that he hears me say or is learning from the Signing Time videos. Tonight, after I gave him the apple wedge and he started slurping away like there was no tomorrow, I said “Nik, can you say Thank you!” as I made the sign, too. He thumped his chest with his palm (apparently his way of saying “thank you” as well as “yes”) and said “uhhhh-uh” in perfect intonation.

The words may not have been there, but I swear I heard “I love you, Mama” in that simple guttural utterance. Nik beamed at me; I laughed —then wiped away a tear.

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In an effort to support Nik’s intense and newly blossoming desire to communicate, I’ve been willing to try almost anything. To that end, I’ve become a convert to a near fanatical movement sweeping the nation in throngs of babies and small children. Even conservative media outlets have bought into the hype!

I’ve resisted the lure for a long time. I had a plethora of what I considered very valid objections to joining the movement; the time and expense were too great, Nik didn’t have the coordination to perform the requisite actions, and I would be the one doing all the work…and so on.

Well, like any good cult, I found myself drawn in, curious to find out more from the likes of these die-hard followers (her, her, her, her, oh and her, too). I kept reading about the enjoyment their children got out of it, the diminished stress levels they personally experienced as a result and— gosh darn it— how cute it all is! Being a sucker for cute, devoted to my son having more enjoyment in his life, and a slave to my own stress, I simply had to check it out.

I was hooked. But how to support the habit? The library. Yes, it’s true. Even the library is on board!

You know, it’s said that a cult will make you turn your back on those you love. Well, I hope Mary can forgive Nik his betrayal; apparently, he’s got a new main squeeze. Her name is Rachel. All I have to do is start to sing a refrain of one of her siren songs and Nik starts smiling like a love sick schoolboy. No, really, I mean it; he even begins to blow kisses to the air! Sorry Mary, it’s been a jolly holiday. But this thing with Rachel? Well, it seems pretty serious.

Consider it a sign of the times. And the times…they are a changing!

Nik getting his Rachel fix

Nik spontaneously signed “eat” for the first time this morning…
while watching the video, of course!


The use of cult references is intended for purely humorous effect. Please accept my apology for any offense given; it is entirely unintentional.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say we have been working with Nik using the sign for “eat” for a while now. He understands it, he will mimic it if he’s specifically asked within the context of meal time. He has not, before today, ever spontaneously signed this or any other sign.

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