Someone once asked me if people talk to themselves in sign language. I think they were trying to be funny, and at the time I didn’t think it was very funny. Someone piped up and said their sister talks to herself in sign language all the time. But she’s just a mommy who has learned a little sign language to teach her totally neurotypical (I’m starting to like that word – it’s just so . . . descriptive) children. I can’t quite buy she subconsciously signs milk and more to herself when she is distracted.
See, if I had my way, I wouldn’t be teaching my son sign language. I’d be teaching him to say words like please and thank you, and I’d be getting pretty tired by now of listening to his 500 questions a day that most 5-year-olds seem to have. But Noah has Down syndrome, and apraxia, and it’s only this past year that he has started to speak . . . slowly.
Today I realized something, though. He is talking to himeself in sign language. I watched him get into his little plastic vehicle on the porch, and he was signing a two-word phrase, even though he didn’t realize I was watching him. On the other side of the porch I could see my 2-year-old, and he was talking to himself too, vocalizing what he was intending on doing – in two-word phases. It was totally the same cognitive process, just a different delivery mode.
How can that be? Why can the boy do it with his hands but not with his mouth? Wait – don’t answer that. I know all the fancy schmancy explanations about neural pathways and the coordination of small muscles in the mouth and tongue, yatta, yatta, yatta. But it still doesn’t quite make sense. He has the thought, he has the ability to express that thought, he just seems to want to bypass his mouth completely. Doesn’t he know it would just be much easier to go ahead and talk? I mean, he is hearing the words all the time, but we have to actually learn and practice signs. Doesn’t he know that not everyone he meets will be able to understand his signs; actually, most of them will not? Doesn’t he know how precious every single sound uttered from his lips is to us?
This makes me crazy.
But as I scoot my computer chair back to catch a glimpse of my amazing boy as he drifts off to sleep, I realize speech or no speech, the words of his heart are coming through in all that he does; his signs, his words, his sounds, his smiles, his joyful leaps that he makes for no reason at all, the way he holds out a favorite toy to a sibling, the way he throws his arms around our necks and squeezes; and the words of his heart are the words that matter in this crazy life.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19: 14, www.biblegateway.com