One would not think to teach a baby to learn how to use American Sign Language when one was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. However, as parents to my son who is non-verbal and has Cerebral Palsy…my husband and I did just that. When our son, Andy was about 14 months old the physical therapist was working with him on a peanut ball. He absolutely loved it. She started to sign to him “yes”. At first he would wait, then she would sign to him, he would smile, then she would give him more of what they were doing. Afterwards, she would repeat everything again. After awhile, we noticed one of his arms moving, so she took that as a sign for “yes”. They were having so much fun, it continued on. After she left, we continued to work on it. We realized over time, he would sign “yes” when we asked him questions. He wasn’t able to shake his head up & down, it was too hard for him. So the sign was really nice to have.
By the time he was 2 years old. He had learned a number of ASL signs. “Mom”, “Dad”, “Home”, “Shoe”, “More”, “All Done” long with some others. I think the most maddening thing about him signing was only one person that was working with him knew ASL/sign language and that was his music therapist. I really think that Speech Therapist should have ASL included in their schooling. Man, if Andy was able to learn ASL at every speech session, his expressive language would have been so much higher.
With every sign he learned, he would not be able to sign it correctly at all. He had a lot of fine motor issues so it was as best as he could. We realized over time though his signing would get better. The signs he couldn’t do, he would make up his own. As long as we asked him to sign a word and he did, we learned his sign.
Over the years we have had our struggle getting the school district to provide him American Sign Language. They were under the impression that because he had Cerebral Palsy no one would understand his signs. Which is not true at all. We had always hired nannies who knew ASL, they understood him.
As of today, Andy is 12 years old and knows over 200 signs. We finally have him in a classroom where the teacher and the staff know ASL…they will also be teaching him new signs through out the school year.
Come to find out, a lot of children with Cerebral Palsy are now learning to sign. This is so exciting to us.
Here are a few videos of Andy through the years. The first video is him at 5 or 6 years old. The second video is when he was about 10 years old.
Andy signing at age 5 or 6 years old
Andy signing at age 10 years old
So if you have a child who can sign simply basic signs, continue practicing with them with each sign. Over the years hopefully the fine motor will improve or you can just accept the modified sign and that is still great!
Andy, Born Feb 4 2000 (Agpar Score 0,0,0,4 at 15 min, heartbeat @ 17 mins) 12 years old. HIE (Came home with G-Tube, Removed @ 14 mos.) Hypotonic, later dx’ed Mixed CP. Hydrocephalus has VP Shunt (revised 2000 & 2012) GMFM II almost Level I. Walks Independently but not well enough to play sports. Non-verbal. Uses ASL.