Sara, you have a very successful career. You have earned Bachelors in Linguistics and Psychology and an Honors Diploma as a Communicative Disorders Assistant. How did you choose your career path?
Languages have always been something that fascinated me even though I really only speak English. I have studied both French and American Sign Language though!
We connect with each other through a shared language and culture. It’s such an important aspect of who were are as individuals and as part of a community. Those who are unable to communicate, for whatever reason, can’t fully participate in their community and the value they can bring to their community is not fully appreciated. I wanted to help these individuals as much as I could. Communication is key to connect with those around you.
You are the author of one of the top selling baby books in America, what do you think led “The Baby Signing Book” to be a top seller?
The Baby Signing Book was written to help parents of any young child learn about language development and to learn motivating American Sign Language signs to use with their little ones. It’s meant to be both fun and functional. Review of my little book have been very positive because it’s easy to follow, the illustrations are fantastic and it includes a lot of vocabulary that just makes sense for little ones. Parents, educators and speech pathologist love it!
You are linked to over 40 groups on LinkedIn, including Autism Speaks, Preemie World and Early Childhood Education. Can you tell us how sign language improves the lives of children with developmental delay?
Many children with developmental delays have mild to significant language difficulties. They may have difficulty speaking and/or they may have difficulty understanding what is said to them. Using sign language help children communicate when they can’t. It helps children “see” and “feel” language in addition to hearing it when they may have difficulty learning.
Is sign language suitable for all children, or is it specific for kids with speech impairment?
Sign language is suitable for all children and they will show you that they love it! Sign language helps you communicate before you can. It helps your get your point across when you are not being understood. It helps you learn to read. It helps you communicate in places when you might not be heard, e.g., across a park. It lets you communicate in a place where you need to be quiet, e.g., in church.
How does language development improve behavior?
Challenging behaviors occur because a child can’t make themselves understood. They want something; they are tired and want to escape an activity; they want to get your attention and don’t know how to appropriately. Challenging behaviors may also occur when a child doesn't understand what someone is saying.
When a child can’t communicate using speech because they are too young, too tired or because of special needs, sign language helps them make requests, get your attention, let you know that they are “finished” in a way that is appropriate…before tantrums occur.
What do you think would be the best way to make American Sign Language available to everyone and what is the best way to get involved?
Everyone learns differently. You can start to learn sign language from books, videos or classes. I love the idea of classes because you can get immediate feedback about how you are doing and ask questions that you might not have thought of before. Classes also get new parents out of the house and meeting other new parents. That community is so important for learning and just being happy!
Tell us about WeeHands...
I founded in 2001 as a way to stay home with my own children. Since then we've grown to having more than 60 instructors teaching across North America. We we offer sign language classes for parents to take with their babies, toddlers and preschool children. We teach parents American Sign Language signs along with age appropriate language development games and activities. The Baby Signing Book, our DVD and music CD were created to help parents learn to sign and encourage language development as well.
What are the 5 most basic signs a toddler should learn?
You could pick signs for things that are of great interest to your toddler. For example, if your toddler really like food, choose food signs. If your toddler loves animals choose animal signs. Some great signs to start with a toddler are: milk, more, eat, finished, dog, cat, hurt, stop (oops, that’s more than five!).
The most rewarding moment teaching sign language...
Oh, when parents stop me in parking lots and coffee shops to let me know how amazing it’s been to be able to connect and communicate with their babies and toddlers. Those are definitely the most rewarding moments!