Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Baby steps of communication


This is my nephew Henry.  He is deaf.  Both of his parents are deaf as well.

Having a deaf sister and brother-in-law has always been special for me.  I love this secret language we speak, this not having to say what we are feeling out loud.  Our hands speak for us, yes, but it's more than that.  We speak our own language of body movements, glances, sign names.

I signed to Dylan long before Henry was born.  I catch myself signing when I'm alone even, because it is natural for me now--although I'm not an expert by any means--I sign in my dreams now and then.  I sign to Dylan because sign language is easier for babies to use for communication but other than one fluke time when he signed "more," Dylan never signed back.

Until today.

18 months of signing to this boy and we finally had a breakthrough.

I asked him if he wanted a drink.  He said "gup";  meaning yes.  I asked him what he would like to drink--milk or water--and signed both for him.   He showed me the letter W.  I might've melted from pride.  Water it is, buddy.

I thought back to my theater days in high school when a girlfriend and I acted as Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan for gymnasiums filled with kids in honor of Women's History Month.  This friend, Lissa, and I wrote our own monologue and took turns with our characters, one of us being guided onto the stage by the other, one of us speaking as the other signed the history of these incredible women.  We told the children about how a woman who could not see or hear could learn how to communicate.

Helen Keller's first word was water, too.


One word doesn't seem like much now but for Henry it will mean a lot someday.   I picture these two cousins years from now speaking their own language together in the backyard and it begins with one little 'W' from the boy who loves everything water.