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The 'A' Word

As a baby signing instructor I am regularly contacted by mums whose toddler or preschool child is non verbal or behind on their communication milestones, wondering if baby signing would help. Often the child is showing no other areas of concern and are a typical happy energetic tot. There can be many reasons for this, shyness, being tongue tied, a learning or physical difficulty, autism or just plain catching up in their own good time!

One such little 2 year old boy came to my wednesday Toddle Talk class early this year to try a session and it is our journey together I wanted to share with you. I will call him 'N'.

N's first session is best described as a stressful mess, for him and his mum. The busy, noisy group was too much of a sensory overload for N. He cried throughout and sat glued to his mum away from the group. As you can imagine the mum left the minute the session ended!

Shortly after I contacted her and we discussed what had happened and why this might be. I offered a 1:1 session and on arrival N started crying as before, but quickly settled as the room was calm and quiet. I allowed N to lead this session, the aim being to build rapport and assess our starting point. Health professionals had just hit the family with the bombshell that he was probably on the spectrum and spent a fair bit of time pointing out what was not 'normal' about N.

I could just see a cheeky little chap who reminds me very much of my boys but that communication at this point was more for his own benefit, rather than anyone else's. N had previously been learning to speak, so he could do it, but stopped recently after a couple of big changes occurred in his little life. (A common story for those on the autistic spectrum).

I set about taking some Autism Awareness training, in particular related to communication to get a better understanding of what was happening in N's world and what I could do to help. This has been great as I have been able to pick out facets of how N works, while studying and our sessions quickly developed around this.

First I needed to get N to WANT to communicate with the people around him. A baby's brain usually releases a burst of the feel good hormone Oxytocin when they get the standard excited response from us for communicating, whether this is sounds or words. With a baby or toddler on the spectrum, this release is very restricted and therefore the child does not get the same buzz of motivation which encourages them to WANT to communicate more.

Thankfully N loves all the same toys as my 2 boys, so finding things to keep his interest has not been that hard and the change in him from week 1 in a group setting to week 3 has been astounding. Not only did he come running in the class with a big grin on his face, excited to see me, but he opened up to being interested in communicating with me, albeit by making sounds and pulling me or his mum to where he knew I had toys hidden.

We have worked out that N knows his colours, and getting to know his shapes, he loves vehicles, so can tell the difference between a car, a bus or a lorry and even made the 'b' sound when finding me the bus.

Puzzles are great fun and when he has to ask for a pot to be opened so that he can get to another piece of puzzle, or toy inside, the 2 way ping pong of communication began.

A few more sessions along and N has developed 4 different signs that he uses and has come out with phrases such as 'oh dear'. Much to our delight and amusement.

So can baby signing help? Yes it can, but more importantly we look for and encourage any and all forms of communication, verbal is of course the end goal for any child, but signing, sounds and body language are all important too and encouraging a child to want to talk is vital.

N will be off to nursery in Septembe,r with the appropriate support in place to continue improving, but I feel proud and a real sense of love and achievement towards this little lad and the progress we have made together.

If you have a child who you feel could use some help or encouragement in this area, contact me and I will happily discuss it with you and see if this is something I feel I can assist you with.

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