about signing time

One mother's journey from adversity to opportunity

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In December of 1996, Rachel Coleman and her husband Aaron welcomed their first daughter, Leah, into the world. At the time, Rachel was writing music and performing with her folk rock band. They would take young Leah to band practices and concerts and were amazed that she was able to sleep in spite of the loud music. When she was 14 months old, they discovered why: Leah was profoundly deaf.
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To say the least, their world turned upside down. Rachel's priorities instantly changed. She put down her guitar and picked up sign language. She and her husband immediately started teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to Leah as fast as they could learn it. Something remarkable happened: by the time Leah was 18 months old, her sign language vocabulary far surpassed the spoken vocabulary of "hearing" children her same age. While Leah's little friends could only point and whine for something they wanted, Leah could sign "juice, not milk" or "cheese and crackers, please." Other parents took notice, including Rachel's sister Emilie, who started teaching sign language to her infant son Alex, so that he would be able to communicate with Leah.
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A few years later, Rachel and Aaron's second daughter, Lucy, was born. However, Lucy arrived eight weeks premature with spina bifida and cerebral palsy. Doctors worried that Lucy would never be able to speak, let alone use her rigid fingers to sign with her deaf sister.
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Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Rachel and Emilie decided to team up to create a captivating, entertaining way to teach sign language to children who are not deaf. Their plan was to make a short video that gave their friends and family a fun and easy way to learn ASL as a second language, but most importantly, to give them enough basic signs to communicate with Leah. In 2002 the first volume of Signing Time was released, starring Rachel along with 3-year-old Alex and 4-year-old Leah. The response was overwhelming, and word spread from family to family. Testimonials poured in with touching stories about how the video had been instrumental in dissolving communication barriers and giving a "voice" to children who previously had no way to express themselves.
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Around the time the video was being developed, the media began to pick up on the benefits of signing with hearing infants. While most people at the time still thought sign language was only for those who are deaf, parents everywhere began to pay attention and joined Rachel, Emilie, and other proponents of "baby sign language," sharing it with others as a powerful means of teaching babies and toddlers to communicate before they can talk.
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Studies show that "typical" children who learn to sign as babies:

  • May have higher IQ scores than those who do not sign
  • Tend to be better-adjusted socially
  • Tend to read at an earlier age

    Many parents observe that by learning to communicate earlier, the "terrible twos" are not so terrible--children can use a sign instead of throwing a tantrum to express their needs.
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    Thanks in large part to Rachel and Emilie's efforts, sign language is rapidly gaining recognition as an all-encompassing tool for communication that anyone can use. Whether used by a pre-verbal infant, a non-verbal child with disabilities, or a family who simply wants to learn ASL as a second language, signing has become an important part of American culture.
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    Evidence is also mounting that children with special needs, such as apraxia of speech, autism, or Down Syndrome can make great strides in their communication development when sign language is part of their regimen. The multi-sensory approach engages visual learners, kinesthetic learners, and auditory learners of all ages and abilities, while making sign language easy and fun.
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    While sign language is beneficial for every child, Rachel confesses a more personal goal. She says, "My hope is that everyone will know a little sign, just as most people know a little Spanish--so when your child sees my child at the park, there would be no awkwardness, no communication barrier, just three signs... Hi ... friend ... play ... that is all it would take to change her world."
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    For more information on signing for kids and for product info, check out the Web site of Signing Time.
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