Every so often, I’ll come across a post or a tweet from other special needs folks that will inspire a post of its own here on our site. In this case, it was a retweet from Barbara of TherExtras: “How do you communicate with your child with no words?” To be fair, the author of the original tweet has a nonverbal child – unlike Namine, who was merely delayed in her speech because of the trach and jaw issues. Since all of these issues have been resolved, Namine can learn to speak, and she is. But it wasn’t so long ago when things were different.

It was originally a therapist’s idea, to teach Namine sign language. She was such a tiny thing when she first got her trach, and she couldn’t make any noise. When they first explained to us how the trach works, they explained that only air leaks around the trach would allow a child to make noise, like speaking. Eventually Namine would learn to do this, but that would be a long time coming. We needed a way, not just to talk to Namine, but for her to learn to respond. American Sign Language was the perfect answer.

Namine proved to be a fast learner, but she didn’t possess the fine motor skill to form many of the words. Instead, we were able to tell what she was saying by context and the motion of her hands. Now, of course, she has much better fine motor control, but some of the words she signs still appear the same, because to her, those are the correct way to sign.

My favorite is her sign for I love you. The correct motion is: thumb out, forefinger and pinky out, middle and ring finger down. When Namine learned to sign it, she was unable to do that, so she just crossed her pointer and middle finger. Now, Namine is physically capable of making the correct sign, but it is meaningless. While Namine may learn the correct sign to symbolize the expression I love you, it will lack the emotional significance her own sign contains. Namine made her own sign for I love you at an early age, and it bears more weight, conveys more emotion, and ultimately means more than the one we could teach her.

Thanks for putting up with my prattle. Check out the inspiring post at Praying for Parker.

  • Sweet. True. Powerful. Thanks, Paul.

  • Michele Eiche

    I adore Namine’s sign for I Love You. To me, it was like any other child who can’t say a word properly yet, so they do the best they can. Case in point: Paul-you said “helipotter” for helicopter, even more on point was Peter saying “dubadee” for bandaid. The crossed fingers is Namine’s childish way of saying I love you. Now we all do it as a family. It has special meaning to all of us!