A couple days ago Ed woke up to Noe hovering over him in bed, signing for "drink." Who knows how long he had been standing there, patiently using his sign while Ed slept soundly. That has been one downside to Noe's use of sign language, but there have been many many upsides.
Finding a communication system has been one of the most difficult things about Noe's autism. When words weren't coming, we started him out on sign language. Unfortunately, his difficulty with imitation and motor planning kept him from making much progress. A couple of really wonderful preschool teachers taught him PECs (Picture Exchange Communication). He was able to expand his language and communicate his needs. Unfortunately, we hit a rut this summer with PECs. Despite great efforts to keep PECs reinforcing and fun, Noe began to hate his PECs book. He did, however, spontanteously begin to use some signs with us. Simple signs, like "more" and "candy", that he had previously learned. He also began verbalizing while he used his signs...something that he had never consistently done with PECs.
We decided to go back to sign language. I can't tell you how I agonized about the decision. Noe could not afford to waste any more time waffling between communication systems. I could not fail Noe again.
There were a few things that factored into our decision. We follow Noe's motivation, and he was motivated to learn and use sign language. His imitation and motor planning skills are much improved now, so he is able to learn the signs much faster than before. And most autism teachers prefer to use sign in the classrooms, very few teachers are well-trained in PECs. Last year, I had PECs training for his teacher written into his IEP. But Noe has been getting a new teacher every year, and none of them are ever properly trained in PECs. It seemed like a never-ending fight with the schools.
Since we started formally teaching sign language this fall, Noe is learning about one new sign a week. Most importantly, he is using these signs independently, and retaining them. It has been such a great thing for him. He is so much more communicative, and is naturally trying to approximate words, although his pronunciation is still poor.
It's funny. When someone learns that Noe is mostly non-verbal, they often get very sad for me. They think that I've never had a conversation with my child, when in fact, we talk every day...just not with words. Sign language is just allowing Noe to talk with the rest of the world.