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Signs of Life

Emily Sutton by Emily Sutton Additional Needs

Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton

I was launched into the world of special needs on New Year's Eve 2012, on the birth of my son, Jenson. He is fabulous, sprightly and loving, and ha...

I remember it like it was yesterday; pulling the car up onto the driveway and hearing Jenson say “hhhmmm”.

As a non-verbal then two-year-old, he was beginning to try to enunciate some simple words, and this was his version of ‘home’.

His poor oral-motor skills meant that progress with speaking was painfully slow.

He had attempted to speak the word ‘home’ hundreds of times before so this was nothing new.

However, when I turned to look at Jenson in the back of the car, I was met with his beaming smile, and his hands making a gallant effort to create the Makaton sign for ‘home’.

This was a defining moment that signified a clear breakthrough in Jenson’s communication.

The first time he had attempted signing.

For the past few months we had been repeatedly signing various basic words to him, and facilitating signing through games and play.

We hoped that some of it was blueprinting on him, but the truth is that we had no idea if anything was registering, because he was making no visible efforts to copy us.

It all felt somewhat abstract and we worried that it was to prove futile.

And then, our first Makaton epiphany: We discovered Singing Hands.

Up until then, Jenson had shown little longevity in front of the television; he would rarely sit and watch for more than five minutes.

Immediately on the introduction of Singing Hands into our lives, he was sitting mesmerised for the entire 45 minute DVDs!

It was as if these songs and scenes had accessed a new area of his brain.

Before long, Jenson was watching the DVDs on repeat.

The magical and captivating songs, hosted by the vocally-blessed founders of Singing Hands, Suzanne and Tracy, have provided a fun, simple and creative means of learning a good basic vocabulary.

Children are drawn in to the catchy and familiar lyrics and bright and cheery scenes.

Naturally, we watched the DVDs along with Jenson, and I even caught Jenson’s daddy conscientiously teaching himself the signs for colours while ‘I can sing a rainbow’ was playing on repeat!

I have no doubt, that Jenson’s inaugural attempt at signing in the car that day, came as a direct result of his new found love affair with Singing Hands.

I would highly recommend Singing Hands to all parents of children with communication needs, and in fact I know of many families with typical children that love them too.

We even went to watch Singing Hands at the theatre last Christmas, and that was truly magical.

Seeing the children’s faces light up when their favourite screen stars appeared on the stage was a moment to remember.

Singing Hands resources can be purchased via this link. Videos can also be accessed via YouTube.

Our second Makaton epiphany was the masterpiece that is Mr Tumble.

Jenson won't go a day without watching an episode and not only has his signing come on leaps and bounds through this great TV show but also his attempts at speaking.

The catchy songs and hilarious characters ingeniously captivate children’s imaginations.

The dialogue that Jenson’s new found skills have afforded us is priceless.

He now has the ability to communicate to us his basic wants and needs, and we can respond, answer and satisfy him.

His fine motor skills are poor and so his signs require a certain level of interpretation, for example, ‘daddy’, ‘more’ and ‘bed’, all appear similar!

But to those that know him well, we can contextualise his movements and decode his gestures.

Both Singing Hands and Mr Tumble have been lifelines for our family.

They have curtailed the inevitable frustrations of not being able to communicate, and have allowed us the ability to engage in a basic dialogue with our son.

By learning signing, Jenson is developing his cognitive abilities, fine motor skills and even his concentration levels.

His baby brother is even starting to learn some signs too!

It is wonderful to feel that two-way connection with your child, even if it is as simple as ‘what do you want?’ - ‘yoghurt please’!

The reality is that we have no idea if Jenson’s speech will develop to the extent that one day he can hold a conversation.  But who says those conversations need to be in spoken English?!

His new enthusiasm for signing has opened up new hope for us.


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