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.