By Becky Cashman
My 14-month-old niece, River, told her mother she wanted more by putting her hands together like a small clapping motion. “Baby signs,” said my sister Suz, and I was hooked.
Through the course of my 4-day visit with Suz (complete with my very own 6-month-old baby Helena), I learned all of River’s signs. My sister pointed me to the signing book she’s used, and so began a journey into communication.
Helena’s first sign was dog and oh, how I celebrated her brilliance at one year old. Yippee! Through the next year we continued to add signs as we needed them. Some were the stock standard more and all done signs. But many of them were made up. We had a sign for lake, weedeater, Dad, Mum, fish, book, up, penguin, lion, digger, horse, and on and on. The vocabulary was driven by Helena’s interest, extending far beyond the original beginner signs.
Together, we developed our own language of about 100 signs. We used it to talk about people, events, scenery, Mummy milk, daily routine, poos and wees, hats and shoes, and activities like driving or walking.
The signs had to be fairly large motions so that they could be copied. Sometimes it would take us a few different versions to find one that suited and stuck. It was a flowing work in process. As we developed signs, I’d share them with my husband, so that he could be involved. An unwilling participant at the beginning, he became very involved with signing as Helena showed how much she got out of it.