October 24, 2012

Put It to The Wheels on the Bus Test

I don't think there are right or wrong ways to sign with your baby, just like I don't think there are right or wrong ways to sing and play "The Wheels on the Bus."  Certainly there are right or wrong ways to make a particular sign, but in terms of the "how to incorporate signs into your communication" aspect of signing, I don't subscribe to the notion that there are right or wrong ways. When people ask me, "Is it okay if I....?" or "How do I....?" or "What if I....?" my standing answer is, "Put it to the Wheels on the Bus test." By this I mean, how would you answer the exact same question if you were singing and playing, "The Wheels on the Bus" (or "Patty Cake" or "Peek-A-Boo") with your child?

For example, it's fairly common for class participants to ask if they should sign with their right or left hand. I explain that although most ASL dictionaries are written for right-handed signers, you can choose your right or your left hand to be your dominant or active signing hand. That's typically the hand that moves (or moves the most) when you're making a particular sign. When I answer this question, inevitably someone will ask, "But what if I sign with my right hand and my parenting partner signs with his or her left hand?"

So, let's put that to The Wheels on the Bus Test. What hand do you "Beep-Beep-Beep" with? What hand does your parenting partner "Beep-Beep-Beep" with? Is it the same hand? Whether your answer is yes, or no, the more important additional question is, "Have you ever contemplated this issue before?" (this issue being the possibility of you beep-beeping with a different hand than someone else who loves your baby...) I suspect no, and I encourage you to likewise not spend time contemplating who signs with what hand with your baby. Your baby will not likely develop his or her own hand dominance until at least preschool or kindergarten. Your baby will see you signing (or waving, or pointing or writing) with your dominant (most comfortable) hand, and when they begin signing (or waving or pointing or writing), they will typically begin by alternating between hands...i.e. whatever hand doesn't have a cookie in it, is the hand they will likely use to sign MILK (or, if they're really enthusiastic, they will probably sign milk with both hands, simultaneously!)

Okay, so here are a couple of other  common questions: "Is it okay to manipulate my baby's hands to help him or her make the signs?" or "Should I make the signs on my baby's body?" Let's put these questions to The Wheels on the Bus Test: Do you ever hold your babies hands/arms and help them go "round and round" or "swish, swish, swish?" Do you ever "Beep-Beep-Beep" on their nose? For some of you, the answer is, "Absolutely!" For others, your answer might be, "It depends." And it does depend...Some babies like to have their hands manipulated and/or have signs made on their body. Other babies do not.

My daughter used to hold her hands out towards me and say, "Help, Mommy," if she was trying to make a complicated sign. My son used to arch his back and say, "By myself!" if I tried to manipulate his hands to help him form a sign. Two different kids. Two different personalities. Two different preferences. Two different answers. How did I know what to do? I paid attention to their nonverbal queues. If your child doesn't like having his or her arms moved for them in the "round and round" motion for "The Wheels on the Bus," they likely won't like having their arms moved for them to make the handshapes for signs. If your child giggles when you Beep-Beep-Beep on their nose, they will likely giggle when you make the sign for APPLE on their cheek.

So, what are your questions about signing? How would you answer these same questions if you were singing/playing "The Wheels on the Bus" instead of signing? Generally speaking, I hope your answers give you peace of mind and help you relax and have fun with signing. If you're relaxed and having fun when you're signing, you'll likely sign more often than if you are feeling stressed or rule-bound while you're signing. If you're signing regularly, your baby will catch you signing more often and will eventually start copying you. Once they develop the cognitive and physical skills to copy you, they are just steps away from being able to sign independently to communicate their wants and needs. And then the real fun begins!

Stay tuned. More on this later!

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