Now this is a sign of good communication

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorMy seven-year old daughter, Donae, and I just finished a Mommy and Me American Sign Language course!
That wasn›t the official course title but that’s what we called it. 
Balancing the needs of my two little girls, Donae, and four-year old Rhonda-Rene, is an ongoing challenge. Donae’s a bright, confident, theatrical, orator with an actual speaking schedule. Rhonda-Rene’s a loving, happy-go-lucky free spirit with minimal verbal ability due to Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) caused by a mutation of the FOXP1 gene. Like many parents, my husband, Don, and I are faced with balancing their unique needs to ensure each child develops at their fullest potential. 
Taking ASL classes was a great way for our family to bridge the disparities in our girls’ communication. Donae was able to learn the fundamentals of a new language while helping to teach Rhonda-Rene an alternative way to communicate until she can become a verbal communicator.
We concluded the nine-week course March 17. It was offered by the Eisenhower Cooperative 5318 W. 135th Street, in Crestwood.  PAGE-12-with-Cluadia-col-Donae-and-Stephanie-Dustin-Interpreter-for-the-DeathDonae Parker, left and instructor Stephanie Dustin pose after a sign-language class. Photo by Claudia Parker.
We met once per week from 4:00 to 5:30pm. It was only $20 for everyone in our household, but it’s free for Eisenhower Cooperative and member district employees. Member districts include 125-128, 130, 132, 143, 143.5 and 228.
The class is co-taught by instructors Mallory McGreehin, a Hearing Itinerant who goes from school to school servicing deaf and hard of hearing students fully mainstreamed in their home district and Stephanie Dustin, an interpreter for the deaf. 
“Originally these courses were for families of our student’s that were deaf or hard of hearing and our teachers with deaf and hard of hearing students in their classroom.” Dustin said. “But, we expanded our offering as a workshop so teachers could get CPDU credit hours.”
Upon Dustin learning we weren’t affiliated with their district through any of those means she smiled. “How’d you hear about us?” Dustin asked. “We don’t get many people from the community. I guess they don’t know about us.”
“Oh, I can help with that.” I thought to myself. I can’t stand it when a good thing goes unnoticed. “My daughter’s elementary school principal, John Stanton gave me the information.” I told her.  
Rhonda-Rene attends half-day preschool at Evergreen Park’s Northwest Elementary in a Special Education classroom. The entire team of educators at NW have been incredible about offering additional support for her development. It’s a collaborative effort between the school district, private therapists and Don and I to get this little girl everything she needs to thrive.
There are more than just children and adults with disabilities benefiting from ASL.
Babies can gain an advantage in language when taught to sign. I taught Donae a collection of signs when she was about six months old. She gradually learned 50 signs from watching a Baby Einstein “My First Signs” DVD regularly.
It proved remarkably useful. One evening she awoke in the middle of the night crying. I expected to shush her back to sleep, but instead, I found myself adding a layer over her pajamas because she signed the word, “cold.”
At the time, she wasn’t able to verbalize that word. I was grateful for having given her the ability to communicate non-verbally before her expressive language developed.
We discontinued signing once she began communicating verbally. Not that it’s required but having basic signing knowledge helped Donae and I comprehend during the ASL course. We really enjoyed it. It’s geared towards individuals who are beginning signers who want to further their knowledge in sign language. They also have an advanced signing course designed for a signer aiming to become more fluent.
Donae and I aren’t quite ready for fluency. I’d get so nervous when our instructors would ask us to practice sentences; mine were in slow motion.
Donae let me have it one day. “Mom, this is embarrassing. You’ve got to practice more.” She said.
Agitated by her unintended insult I replied. “Excuse me? You’re signing at the same pace as me.”
Undeterred by my rebuke, continuing to practice she blurted. “But, I’m seven.”  
McGreehin and Dustin did a great job keeping us engaged and giving equal attentiveness to everyone in the class. The structure is broken into pieces, there’s a short verbal/signing lecture, group work, games and lots of on-the-spot practice. 
The course is offered twice annually, once in the spring and fall. Registration is handled online through the Eisenhower Cooperative website Contact, Kristen Kozik 708-389-7580 extension 221 for more information.
Donae began bonding with Rhonda-Rene while she was in my womb. Seemingly, at the most inopportune times, she’d come meddling with my pregnant belly.
“Hello? Lil sister, are you in there? She’d ask. “If you can hear me, give a little kick.” It was like surefire magic because right on cue I’d feel those tiny feet kick. Donae would get such a rise out of that. “I’m going to be the best BIG sister ever.” She’d tell me.
Don and I couldn’t be more proud of how Donae is handling being a big sister. She’s identified Rhonda-Rene needs extra help. Instead of allowing herself to be bitter about the extra time and attention focused on Rhonda-Rene, she looks for ways to be involved. She said, “Mom, I’m glad we took this class. Now I know how to help my sister communicate better.”

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.