“To Sign or to Speak…is it Hummus or is it Hommous=حُمُّص?”

Lisa:  If you are a speech therapist, or if your child needed speech therapy before the age of 4, you will not like this post. Because Sophie was speech delayed, her therapists recommended we begin signing to her when she was about one year old.  The well-intentioned “experts” rationalized that, without a way to communicate, she would become frustrated, frustration would lead to behavior issues, and we would then have bigger problems on our hands.  I reluctantly agreed, though my heart told me this was the wrong decision.  I wanted Sophie to speak, not sign.  Thankfully my inner voice was louder than that of the speech therapist. We parted ways with that woman, who worried about my so-called errant decision.  Today, Sophie speaks very clearly for a teen with Down Syndrome.

Here’s my own extremely brief simplification of a complex topic.  NACD (National Association for Child Development, www.nacd.org) taught me that the auditory nerve needs early, frequent stimulation.  By signing, we bypass auditory nerve stimulation and teach Sophie to visualize language rather than to hear and reproduce it.  Seems logical except that this is a dangerous shortcut to take.  Future attempts to optimize oral motor function and produce inteligible speech often fail in our children with DS.  Expressive language eventually comes, but speech quality suffers and will never be what it could have been had we persevered with auditory nerve stimulation and simultaneous oral motor exercises.  We reach a point of no return in language development such that certain sounds may never be reproduced because they weren’t learned early enough.  Behavior can be modified, but reach that “point of no return” in language development, and some speech issues cannot ever be modified.  Ever. Really? Yes, really.

Consider a neurotypical Chinese person who learns to speak English as an adult.  (I believe this is Bob Doman’s example.)  “Fried rice” is pronounced “flied lice.”  Too politically incorrect for you?  Ok how about I offer an example from my own culture?  My Lebanese mother had only been speaking English for 11 months when I was born. Consequently, I am 95% fluent in Arabic, and my accent is pretty good.  Mom did not require my neurotypical younger sisters to speak as much Arabic at home as me.  They understand our colloquial dialect, but their pronunciation is not nearly as good as mine.  It goes further.  There are at least 3 sounds/letters in Arabic that do not exist in English:  haa, qaf and ein.  To this day, neither of my sisters can make those 3 sounds.  As hard as they try, they cannot.  Years ago, I remember emailing coworkers about a potluck, when my dear friend Cindy said, “You spelled hummus wrong.”  I chuckled and replied, “No. You said it wrong!  It’s HOMmous.”

Sophie:  I love to speak Arabic at home.  “7alib” means milk.  “Rou7i namey” means go to bed.  We use dignified speech at home.  If you have something to say, say it!  Kids, try to talk.  Don’t use your hands.  Use your words.  Goodbye folks!