Introduction

This is probably where I should explain the purpose of this blog. The background to it.

My daughter is nearly four and is still almost completely non-verbal. We have lots of professionals involved: Portage, Consultant Paediatricians, Speech and Language; she’s being assessed for the autistic spectrum. And being a “rising five” in September, albeit only just, we’re looking at the prospect of fulltime schooling. Our current plan is to defer her entry to school for a year because of her language difficulties which have then caused delay in progress (or at least delay in expressing her progress) elsewhere. We’re also looking at an Education Health and Care Plan – formerly known as a Statement of Special Educational Needs.

And so we’ve had a lot of professionals asking us about her language. And it transpires that she uses language differently in different contexts. “Inconsistent,” say pre-school; “Code switching,” I thought. It appears that her language use with me is richer and more confident than with anyone else.

She has some very limited verbal words; she can produce a number of onomatopoeias; she has a wider range of signs which I have taught her – I’ve primarily self-taught myself British Sign Language from thd internet. Speech and Language suggested Makaton but there were very limited resources for that, at least that I could find.

Personally, I’m also interested in how those two languages (verbal and sign) interact: she seems more compliant to signed instructions than verbal ones!

So, this blog is generally serving a number of roles but two main ones: firstly, to celebrate her progress which I think is rapid; secondly, a record of her verbal and signed vocabulary. It’s tricky sometimes to remember what she can do when put on the spot by professionals!

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Joining in

Daisy’s school have seen her trying to join in play but not being able to make other kids understand her. 

How horribly heart-breaking is that?

So the next sentence we are teaching her is: “Daisy wants to play please”. Rather self-consciously, I hope it goes something like this…

Toilet

It has been an uphill struggle getting the little one to use the toilet. She had sat on it a few times, tinkled a couple of times and seemed generally nonplussed about the whole procedure. And didn’t return to it.

This summer, because she is four and – save for the fact that we are deferring her a year – would be entering Primary School, and because moving house wasn’t upheaval enough, I have managed to get her onto the toilet fully – ones and twos – and reliably. 

And I’ve been teaching her the Makaton sign for toilet because it’s easier than the BSL one.

How do I know she knows the sign? Because she uses it as an excuse to get out of bed, peeking out from her bedroom door, touching her shoulder with one finger.

Choices

The latest Portage visit suggested that using language – signed or spoken – to choose between options was Daisy’s next step to reinforce that language can give her ownership and control over her world.

So currently, the bedtime routine now includes her choosing which order to get her toys: dog or bear; boy elephant or girl elephant; big bear or little bear; cat or elephant.

She is doing well with it, just about geting the idea of choosing. Last night, she did leap from bed and take one of the toys from my hand and I was about to tell her that she had to use signs, but then she put another toy into my empty hand, ran back to bed and waited to be given the choice!

She also copied beautifully the signs for both the question “What does Daisy want?” and the reply “Daisy wants… please”.

We have also transferred the game to the bathroom where I ask her whether she wants the pink or blue soap.

We’ve not had the “want” sign spontaneously yet but, for the previous two years, I’ve yearned for her to be able to tell Santa what she wants for Christmas and – provided Santa can sign – we’re nearly there this year!!

Mind Your Ps and Qs

We’re starting to get some of the basics of social etiquette coming with her: turn-taking is going well thanks to the ubiquitous Orchard Toys games – she is even content to take her turn and, if the rules of the game so dictate, miss her turn – and she is applying it ourside the game setting. We went for a walk in the park today and came across a woman walking her dog and throwing a ball. Daisy took over and rigidly enforced whose turn it was to throw!

Weve also started to get some pleases – both signed and spoken – and thank yous – currently signed only. Her first thank you came when she was playing an inappropritely physical game throwing herself from the arm of the sofa into my arms and then, as her faith in my ability to catch her grew, into midair when I was on the other side of the room, diving to catch her in time. Once caught and safely rerurned to the vertical plane, shed turn to me a sign “Thank you!” and then repeat.

“Please” she has learnt will get her anything she wants more readily than usual so, today, we have paddled in the river over the road and had chocolate cakes just because she added a please. Her (signed) sentemces ran “Daisy wants river please” and “Daisy wants chocolate cake please” and the only sign I had to model and which hasn’t yet been internalised was the verb “wants”.

Linking Words and Names

This seems to be a huge step forward: Daisy is now choosing her books at bedtime by name! Not always the name the author chose, mind you, but still a name that makes perfect sense!

The Fox and The Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith – by far her favourite book – has tbe privelege of getting its proper name as she signs Fox and Star.

Julia Donaldson is a little more individual: The Gruffalo is generally “Mouse, Fox, G” because we use the ‘G’ fingerspelling for “Gruffalo”; and Room on the Broom is “Hat, Cat, Dog”.

Where The Wild Things Are has become “Where Animals”; The Hungry Caterpillar loses its protagonist and has become just “Hungry”!

The film Zootropolis is “Fox amd Rabbit film”.

I’m no speech and language or languahe acquisition or signing expert but knowing that things have names and an identity seems a really good thing in terms of her understanding the world – a necessary step to developing a theory of mind, which I’m pretty sure she already has – and in using language to gain a level of control over the world and make choices.

Also, there has been an increasing confidence in signing and this linking of signs in the last few days shows to me, again, an intuitive playful understanding of the power of language.

Dad

Daisy has shown a distinction between me and her mum: the word “Mum” has been secure and regularly used for months; the sign for “Dad” has been equally secure and regularly used, perhaps for longer. But is¬†generally very much a verbal “Mum” – even though she knows, uses and is secure with the sign for “Mum” – and a signed “Dad”.

This week, we have been going for walks in the woods and playing hide-and-seek. When her mum hid, Daisy and I called out “Mum!” with the pantomime of hands around mouth and the elongated “u”… “Muuuuuuuuuuuuuum!”

When I hid, taking turns nicely, which is her target to work on from Portage, I swear I heard her calling out in a similarly pantomime manner “Daaaaaaad!” although her “d” sound was a tad indistinct. Obviously, when her mum tried to video it, she reverted back to signing “Dad” which is a little pointless when playing hide-and-seek!

I’ve also heard it used around the home in her play, generally when she is about to throw herself off a high place preceded with a “Help, Dad!” and launching into thin air. I would prefer her to wait for me to be closer to her before the launching!

Writing

I’ve wondered for a while whether Daisy would end up reading and writing before her speech came on. She is so interested in books and this blog shows how many of her words have come from her reading stories. Often at night time, ill read her a story and find her ten minutes later ‘reading’ the same or another book to her teddies.

She is certainly aware that some shapes convey meaning: she’ll trace the letters of logos on a t-shirt or on ky car or on shop signs. I prepared a lot of letter / phoneme cards and phonics matchibg games but she seems to prefer finding writing in the wild, as it were. 

And she got very excited on Father’s Day because she’d recognised a “D” on a World’s Best Dad medal. 

Which isn’t surprising: the sign we use for her name is the fingerspelling of “D” which looks like, well, a D.

But today, she was on my laptop and I typed her name and she spent ages carefully finding and pressing the right letters to copy it. Correctly, I might add. And this afternoon she found my post-its and board pen and unprompted, unsupervised wrote this

And to me – as a very proud and biased Daddy – looks like a very clear and carefully crafted ‘D’.