Signing comes Alive!

Tonight, as I tucked Burke into bed, he asked me to sing him a song...usually we sing about trains, or buses but tonight I decided to do my homework practice from skillshop this week. We are learning to sign a song and have to do it in front of everyone in two days...eek! Our group will be signing The Star Spangled Banner...it's such a dramatic song with bombs bursting, red rockets glaring, bright stars and braveness. Awesome! I didn't think Burke would even like it or try to understand the song but of course, he proved me wrong again! I practiced the visual features of sign language and it totally made a difference. Burke really got into the song, he laughed and squealed with delight through most of it. It was so fun to see him really getting emotional about a song and connect to it...just like hearing people connect with the musical instruments or the beat, Burke connects with the modifications of the signs-hand movements, placement of the signs, the emphasis on different signs, duplication (one bomb vs two or three bombs bursting). Tonight, sign language really came alive for him! I can't wait to sing it again in the morning when he wakes up!


Let's Teach
and Pride
for BOTH
English and ASL,
ASL and English
Whichever comes first and naturally
to the parents and the child
Gerilee Gustason


100 Ways to Praise my child-

I really need to start being more specific in praising Burke. His transition into our summer routine and turning 4 yrs old has been tough for everyone! I realized, after some major frustration for all of us, that Burke really just is trying to communicate to us that he needs something. I want to be able to reinforce all of his really great, positive behaviors but was struggling on how to do this while using SEE. I don't think "good work" and "you are smart" are cutting it anymore  So, I'm hoping to learn how to sign a lot of these positive phrases to help Burke feel important and valued in a different way...

FYI: Yes, some of these lines are cheesy but hey, you never know when they might come in handy (with the exception of "Now you're flying"!

Wow * Way to go * Super * You’re special * Outstanding *Excellent * Great * Good * Neat * Well Done * Remarkable * I knew you could do it * I’m proud of you * Fantastic * Superstar *Nice work * Looking good * You’re on top of it * Beautiful * Now you’re flying * You’re catching on * Now you’ve got it * You’re incredible * Bravo * You’re fantastic * Hurray for you * You’re on the target * You’re on your way * How nice * How smart * Good job * That’s incredible * Hot dog * Dynamite * Your beautiful * You’re unique * Nothing can stop you now * Good for you * I like you * You’re darling * You’re a winner * Remarkable job * Beautiful Work * Spectacular * You’re spectacular * Your precious
* Great discovery * You’ve discovered the secret * You figured it out * Fantastic job * Hip hip hurray * Bingo * Magnificent * Terrific * You’re important * You’re sensational * Super work * Creative
job * Super job * Fantastic job * Exceptional performance * You’re a real trooper * What a great kid * Phenomenal * You are responsible * You are exciting * You learned it right * What an imagination * What a good listener * You are fun * You tried hard * You care * Beautiful sharing * Outstanding performance * You’re a good friend * I trust you * You’re important * You mean a lot to me * You make me happy * You belong * You’ve got a friend * You make me laugh * You brighten my day * I respect you * You
mean the world to me * That’s correct * You’re a joy * You’re a treasure * You’re wonderful * You’re perfect * Awesome * A+ job * You’re A-OK * You’re my buddy * You’re growing up * You made
my day * That’s the best * I am impressed * I Love You *
100 Ways to Praise a Child Link


Rationale, Prevalence, and Comparison of SEE to other systems

Prior to the early 1970s, educational programs for children with a hearing loss were “oral-only” (i.e. adults did not sign when speaking to students with hearing loss) (Stedt & Moores, 1990) and teachers of the deaf did not sign at school. About that time, when the first author was a student teacher, sign slowly seeped into use as an educational tool in “total communication” classrooms. American Sign Language (ASL) was beginning to be offered at the college level for credit, and the concept of “educational interpreter” had not been developed as yet. In most programs, the sign used was not specifically delineated as a particular language or system, as ASL had only recently been recognized as a language and forms of manually-coded English had just been invented (Gustason, 1990).
            As an outgrowth of “the continuing concern about low levels of literacy and other academic skills attained by most deaf students” and “an attempt to teach deaf children the language that would be used in schools” (Marschark, Schick, & Spencer, 2006, p.9) manually-coded invented sign systems were developed. Signing Exact English (Gustason, Pfetzing, & Zawolkow,1973), the sign system of focus in this paper is one such system.  The first manual English system, Seeing Essential English or SEE 1, (referred to today as Morphemic Sign Systems or MSS) was designed by David Anthony, a deaf teacher of deaf adults, with input from a team of deaf educators and the parents of deaf children (Gustason, 1990).  The other members of the team viewed SEE 1 (MSS) as inadequate. As a result, Gerilee Gustason, a deaf woman and educator, and other members of the original SEE 1 (MSS) team developed Signing Exact English (Gustason, Pfetzing, & Zawolkow, 1973), initially referred to as SEE 2, but now simply as SEE.  Gustason (1990) delineated the rationale for the invention of SEE as not only due to dissatisfaction with the educational achievement of children with a hearing loss and a desire to use the English language used educationally, but also due to the increasing knowledge of English language development of hearing children as well as research as to the inability of speechreading to access the grammar of spoken English. At the time of the creation of SEE, research documented that deaf children acquired a smaller vocabulary than their hearing peers and that “deaf students’ grasp of the morphological and syntactical rules of English was weak and without a clear pattern of development, in contrast to that of hearing children” (p. 108). Gustason explained that “many word endings were not visible (e.g., interest, interesting, interests, and interested are nearly impossible to distinguish) and “some involve hard to hear sounds” an issue that cannot be resolved through speech reading since according to the research she reviewed, “many bright and otherwise capable deaf children caught only 5 percent of what was said through speechreading” (p. 109). To address the need to visually represent words fully and accurately, SEE was designed to correspond with the number of morphemes of English (Luetke-Stahlman, 1998). Signs are provided for root words and affix markers (e.g., re-, un-, -ing, -ity, -ness, and so forth). Different signs exist for different words such that it is possible to sign electric, electrical, electrician, electricity and nonelectrical. Both the root word and all affixes are made visually obvious. The hope for this system was that signing English would increase the language, reading, and writing abilities of children who were deaf or hard of hearing (Luetke-Stahlman, 1990).  The same author expanded on this concept in the forward of the revised SEE dictionary (Gustason & Zawolkow, 1993) saying, “SEE unlocks for deaf children what PSE [Pidgin Signed English] cannot: figurative English, authentic English, genuine English, exact English.” (p. I).
The basic similarities and differences between SEE and other invented sign systems and ASL are outlined in Table 1. MSS, SEE and the third manually-coded system, Signed English (SE) (Bornstein, 1974) are both similar and dissimilar in ways that warrant clarification. Users of all three systems speak while they sign. They also represent English semantics and syntax via signs, but to different degrees. MSS users attempt to sign almost every syllable of every word that they say. For example, a word such as motorcycle has four sign parts in MSS.  Users of the SE system can sign some of the morphology of English, but to a limited degree since it SE represents only 14 signed morphological markers. For example, to say and sign the word unworkable, the user is constrained in SE and can only sign, “not work,” because SE does not have a sign for the morpheme: un. In contrast, users of SEE can chose among 94 morphological markers to make English morphology visual to a deaf student. Since SEE users base the signed component of their utterances on the number of morphemes (i.e., the smallest unit of meaning) of a word, a SEE user would manually use three signs for unworkable, one for each morpheme: un, work, and able.  As Schick and Moeller (1992) explained, SEE “attempts to represent English literally and it purports to follow a strict criterion of one sign for one English free morpheme or ‘word’” (p. 319). They went on to note that SEE
            follows English semantics and does not borrow from ASL semantics, unlike some other MCE [manually-coded English] systems. For example, the English word run would appear as the same sign in the following phrases even through a different sign would be used in ASL for each one: “a home run”; “a runny nose”; “run for office”; and “a run on the bank” (p. 319).
Both MSS and SEE are based on a “two out of three” rule: If a word is spelled with the same letters and sounds the same, it is signed in the same way even if the meaning of the two words differ. Thus, the word run is signed consistently in SEE no matter the meaning. The SEE uses the manual features common to  all sign languages and systems as was first explained by the authors in the first edition of the SEE dictionary (Gustason, Phetzing, & Zawolkow, 1973). The “two out of three” rule is not utilized in SE or Pidgin Signed English (PSE). Instead, when English words have different meanings, they are usually signed in different ways. For more detailed information as to the commonalities and differences of signed language and systems see Stewart and Luetke-Stahlman (1998). 


The Community of Friendship

This is FB correspondence from a dear friend of mine who has committed to coming along side of us on our journey to learn SEE. Friendship is a beautiful gift!

A: Our book is finally here! Now onto SEE!

Me: Yeah! I'm so excited!!! Thank you for investing into our family and communicating with Burke, I couldn't ask for a better gift! :)

A: Hey - I am investing in MY family too. Damon looked up and SEE'd: "A trillion is a lot" all by himself - we're learning English all over again!

The best support families can have are others who are willing to take initiative and make a committed effort to learn a new way to communicate! Not only does learning SEE benefit our family but it can also positively impact other children who may benefit from a new way to "speak" English!


SEE Mama Sign: Reading Together

SEE Mama Sign: Reading Together

Reading Together

I just thought I'd show a few photos of how we read together and sign. It's been difficult to come up with a method that allows for use of our hands while not having to hold the book! We use a bean bag and a small tray table to give us space to put our books. I always keep my Signing Exact English dictionary near me to look up words that I don't know. I've found this to be the best way for me to remember vocabulary...putting words into the context of a book is so helpful! Burke also enjoys looking at the dictionary and is very patient with me as I learn!


A Wagon of Choices

We played a fun game today that I wanted to share with you all! Burke loves his wagon and enjoys putting toys in and pulling it around the house. Today, I stashed different animals around the house. One by one we "found" each animal and in total communication (speaking and signing) we said,

Mama:"Oh Look, I see a horse". 
Burke: (with prompting) I see a horse
Mama:"Horse, do you want to go for a ride in the wagon, yes or no?"
Burke: (with prompting) Yes, I want the horse
Mama: Oh, that was a good choice!

 ...none of the animals said no and during this game, none of the choices were bad!

He was having so much fun that I doubt he had any idea that our fun game was really packed with lots of learning and hard work!

My learning goals for this game were this:
1.) To practice using one of his "goal" sentences for school- I see a________

2) To practice answering yes and no questions-Yes or No, I want/don't want

3.) To introduce the concept of choices-"Oh, that was a good choice"

My plan is to build on his vocabulary as well as really emphasize the use of full sentences. Also, I want him to learn about making choices. He is really pushing the limits with his behavior and I feel that introducing the concept of making good and bad choices will help with our discipline techniques!


Yes and No...is that a question?

It's been an interesting challenge to teach Burke about "questions". A question can be very abstract for him and difficult to understand. I don't think he realizes how in the world to respond when I sit with my head tilted to one side, eyes focused on him and a questioning look in my eyes. Either he changes to a different topic, runs away or just stares back at me until...
Below is an example of our typical morning conversation...
Mama: Burke, do you want milk or juice?
Burke: milk
Mama: Okay, do you want it in a blue or yellow cup?
Burke: yellow (he says this beautifully and I love it when he chooses yellow!)
Mama: Okay, here is your milk

This week:
Mama: Do you want juice? Yes or No
Burke: No
Mama: Do you want milk? Yes or No
Burke: Yes
Mama repeats to help Burke form full sentence: Yes, I want milk please
Burke repeats: Yes, I want milk please (using total communication)

Mama: Do you want milk?
Burke: Yes, I want milk please
Mama: Wow!

The yes or no response has overflowed to other areas of his communication. If I ask him to answer with a yes or no at the end of a question he now understands (most of the time) that a question requires him to respond. I also realize that he needs about a 10 second wait time to respond...I've known this for a long time but it's very hard to wait! :)

We'll be continuing to work on yes and no answers to questions. Our therapist Katie at Seattle Childrens gave me a few helpful tips:
1.) Use different body positioning when signing yes or no to differentiate that there is a choice. For example, Yes is signed toward the right side of the body while No is signed toward the left.
2.) Ask yes and no questions throughout the day and give a lot of choices. Not only does this help him learn about answering questions, it gives him power and control and reduced temper tantrums! yeah, we like that!


How do we get everyone to communicate?

OK, so here's the scoop! Burke has 4 therapy appointments per week. Speech 2x, Aural Rehab, and Physical Therapy. In addition to his main preschool teacher, he has three other professionals working with him. How do we get everyone communicating. Burke is a whole person and all of his needs go "hand in hand" so I feel like each therapist should make an effort to communicate with each other so that they're sharing information and getting the best approach for their time with Burke. We send a backpack with a notebook to each of his appointments...everyone is supposed to write notes in it to each other...well, this happened about three times and that's it. I'm debating on how to encourage communication...I send emails to them with cc'd to all therapist but it's not that efficient. I wish I didn't have to be the middle man!


Ways to use SEE in your home

We're in the early learning stages of SEE Sign and it's been discouraging trying to find SEE materials and resources. With that said, one of the best investments I've made is the purchase of the Modern Signs Press SEE CD-ROM that allows you to print any illustrated sign, phrase or sentence.  Here are some examples of how I've used this in my home to try and learn SEE and teach it to my son.
Labeling toy bins
Helps with sorting toys. For example-we just learned the sign for magnets and I asked my son to pick up his magnet toys and put them in the bin and then showed him the manual sign and visual printed sign and he was able to learn it and follow my directions

Labeling books
This has been a really great way to learn vocabulary and read books with my son. He loves to point out the signs and pictures and I think it's helping him recognize written text.


Parent Course for Preschoolers

This is Awesome! We're just checking it out and have heard great things!

John Tracy Clinic is an educational center for preschool children with a hearing loss and their parents. The Clinic offers a Distance Education Program to parents whose very young children (birth to approximately two years) have a hearing loss. We offer another Distance Education Program for those whose children are near two through five years. All materials are free of charge. As families participate in the course, they also receive individualized support and guidance from trained parent educators for free.

John Tracy Clinic Distance Education course for Parents of Preschoolers
John Tracy Clinic Home Page

SEE Skillshop Photos

SEE Sign Book Signing Party
Barbara Luetke Stahlman, The Nelson Family, Judy Calahan, & Gerilee Gustason


First day of SEE Skillshop

We had an amazing day at the Seattle Children's Hospital SEE sign skillshop. It's great to be in the company of the SEE sign Guru's and learn from wonderful and patient teachers! Gary and Rosie (Nate's parents) are here and have been brave enough to take the courses with us. It's surprising to see so many parents of deaf children and it warms my heart to connect and share in this journey with them. I'm exhausted, my brain fried and my hands and wrists are sore. Tomorrow will be another full day of learning! I can't wait!


Our Journey to SEE

We get asked this question a lot! Our decision to find the best way to communicate with our deaf son wasn't an easy one. While most parents were researching strollers and crib mattresses, we were researching different methods of communication and cochlear implants. We wanted the best for our son and our family. Was it Auditory Verbal-Oral Communication, sign Language, SEE or ASL, Cued Speech? Big questions haunted us. Fear of the unknown. Fear that we wouldn't be able to communicate with our son. Fear that we would never hear him say I love you and he would never understand those words from us.

For the first three years of his life, our family embraced the lifestyle of Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT). It was hard hard work but we loved it!  AVT isn't just a communication style it's a life style...every thing is seen as an opportunity to teach the meaning of sound though access from a cochlear implant and/or hearing aid. We took walks almost everyday and we'd always stop and point out the sound of cars and trucks passing by, a siren up the street, and the difference between a dog barking verses a bird chirping. As you can imagine, we wouldn't get very far in distance but  our walks created a rich and diverse opportunity to experience the world of sound.

Progress was slow in both receptive and expressive speech. We began to experience more and more frustration with being unable to understand Burke's needs. I felt like I was losing him, like I didn't know who he was. We consulted our team of experts at Seattle Children's Hospital and concluded that because of his diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome, Burke's hearing loss was more complex than originally thought. Burke has Mondini's dysplasia and malformed cochlea with small auditory nerves. Because of this, he doesn't hear as well with his implant and his auditory skills testing and behavior showed that we needed to do more. Burke wasn't understanding his world, we wasn't able to say what he wanted and he wasn't able to do what we asked. We were all frustrated and needed to make a big decision as he was about to turn three and enter preschool.

SEE sign was one of the options that we had researched in the beginning and had previously visited a special school called the Northwest School for Hearing Impaired Children (NWSFHIC) in Shoreline, WA. This school is unique in that they specifically uses SEE sign in a total communication approach classroom setting. The teachers use SEE sign and spoken language concurrently and expect the students to do the same to the best of their abilities. We loved the teachers, administrators and overall feel of support and acceptance. We decided to introduce sign language to Burke in a way that would maintain our family's primary language as English and promote literacy. In the future, we'd like to teach Burke ASL which may give him the opportunity to connect with the deaf community even more. Our goal is to provide him with as many tools as possible...there are many doors in life that will be open to him!

After enrolling Burke into the NWSFHIC in the fall of 2009, he has gained  a large expressive and receptive sign vocabulary AND is speaking more and learning to articulate sounds so much better with the use of total communication. He learns signs so quickly that it's hard to keep up with him! He read his first book (Brown Bear by Erik Carle) after three months of learning sign. Now, it's been f I make a mistake and say something different than what I'm signing, he corrects me and laughs...he thinks it's really fun to be smarter than mom!

I hope this blog provides an open and honest discussion about how we use SEE sign in our home in "real life". I want to provide other parents with an avenue to see learning SEE sign in everyday life and share ideas on how to help our children succeed.