:: Times-Standard Online – More than baby talk ::

Times-Standard Online – More than baby talk

Heather Shelton/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 04/22/200720070422__lifestylesigning_Gallery.jpg

Landen Olsen spoke his first words, “Mama” and “Dada,” when he was 8 months old.

Three months later, in homage to the family pet, he said, “woof,” mimicking the dog’s bark and “Breeze,” the canine’s name. About the same time, Landen also started using American Sign Language, forming the words “milk” and “more” with his tiny hands.

Landen, who will be 2 next month, is one of a growing number of hearing infants and toddlers across the nation who are being taught American Sign Language by their parents as a way to enhance communication before the child is actually able to formulate words.

”I’d always wanted to learn sign language, but never had … the opportunity,” said Jolien Olsen, Landen’s mom. “When I had Landen, I’d heard about people who had signed with their infants and were better able to communicate with them and learn their needs before they could talk.”

Olsen — who is a part-time lecturer in the Department of English at Humboldt State University — enrolled in American Sign Language I through HSU, and later the more advanced American Sign Language II.

American Sign Language — also known simply as ASL — is a complete language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body. It’s the primary language of many deaf North Americans, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.
Olsen first began teaching her son ASL using flash cards, then switched to hands-on instruction as she learned more about the language and mastered how to do the hand motions correctly.

”Every time I’d nurse, I’d do the sign for milk, every time he wanted a glass of water, I’d do the sign for water,” she recalled. “I was just consistent — every time I did something with him, I’d sign with him.”

At 11 months, Landen finally responded in kind, signing “more” and “milk.” Olsen says it took a lot of persistence and patience, but seeing her child communicate his needs using his hands — before he could actually speak the words — was well worth the effort.

”It was just amazing to me. It kind of melted my heart when I saw the connection happen,” she said.

Now, Landen knows about 30 different words using American Sign Language.

”A lot of words are hard for him to say. For example, he can’t say ‘change,’ but he can do the sign for it,” Olsen said.

While some parents have opted to teach their children what’s commonly known as “baby signs,” a modified version of ASL using simpler, easy-to-do gestures, Olsen is teaching her son proper American Sign Language. …continued

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