Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Just yesterday, I had an argument with my daughter during dinner. I had served her chicken and peas and after taking one bite, Hallie announced that she finished. I told her that she was not finished and that she needed to eat more. Again, she informed me that she was finished and promptly clamped her mouth shut. I tried again, alternating between pleading and sternness, but no matter what I said, Hallie just shook her head and repeated that she was finished.

The most amazing this about this entire exchange is that Hallie is only nine months old. The only words I have ever heard her say are “Dada,” “doggie,” and “duck.” But, I have seen her say and express complete thoughts for several months. Starting almost at birth, Justin and I began using American Sign Language when speaking to Hallie. At first, we would sign words like “milk,” and “more,” but as time went on, I got into the habit of signing in real time as I was speaking. And, while Hallie lacks the ability to verbalize the words she wants to use, she can sign them.

To date, I have seen Hallie properly sign the following words: Milk, finished, cereal, no, and tired. The words that she understands are far more extensive: Mommy, Daddy, potty, more, yes, bath, dinner, eat, water, cookie, frustrated, angry, touch, favorite, play, duck, good, work, try, happy, see you later and so many more that I can’t list them.

While in college, American Sign Language (“ASL”) was my minor concentration. But there were so many words that I could not remember (after all, no matter how much ASL I had used as a labor lawyer, words such as doll and pacifier just did not come up very often) so Hallie and I enrolled in a Babyfngers class (check them out on the web at www.mybabyfingers.com) During the classes, ASL was practiced through songs such as “If You’re Happy and You Know It” or “Rubber Ducky.” I learned new words and Hallie had a great time listening to the music and would intently watch a room full of people signing in unison.

There are the detractors who tell me that ASL delays verbal speech, but Hallie babbles non-stop (really, just stop by our apartment at 4am and you are guaranteed to hear her loudly calling for the dogs). There are folks who tell me that ASL eliminates temper tantrums, but that is not true either (note the first paragraph regarding last night’s dinner). But, the thing that teaching ASL to Hallie has done is provide us a wonderful activity to do together (sort of a secret language that is just for us and about 500,000 other people) and allows us to have actual conversations.

It’s just too bad that as soon as she learned to “talk”, she also learned to talk back.

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