Monday, November 30, 2009

What happens when I don't teach signs fast enough

Isabel sometimes has "silent" days, where she only signs. A funny thing about this is that she also keeps her lips clamped tight, as if to emphasize that there will be no talking today. It was on one of these days that we saw her signing "please milk mama shirt" where her usual version is "please milk mama SURE!" ("Sure!" is apparently the answer she's anticipating, and the answer she thinks worth prompting. It works pretty well, I have to say.) So this one was pretty easy to figure out. It got me thinking, though, about why she might be signing what looked like "pig" whenever she played with her mini-pumpkins. Sure, they both started with "p", but...

This morning the explanation emerged. Isabel was quietly stacking her pumpkins, when Signing Time came on and Rachel said "Hopkins!" (the frog). Isabel was exceptionally pleased, and raised up one of the pumpkins signing what was now, clearly, "frog", and yelling "UPkin! "
(By the way, Isabel DID have a clip in her hair the morning we went to Webb Ranch, above, but she soon took care of THAT...)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Marco's teaching the kids in the bathtub

[Marco whistles.]
Me: Yes?

Marco: Watch this! [Sings.] Ice, ice, baby. Dindiddleindiddleindin. Ice, ice, baby. Stop. Hit it?

Isabel: Uhnatime!

Me: [Buries face in hands.]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kaa suggests Forster, but I opt for Koko

James has a cough today, so he's home with me while Isabel's off with her grandparents. We'd been hypnotizing each other as we watched Kaa in the Jungle Book (with James occasionally falling spectacularly as if Mowgli'd just pushed him off a branch, and, more often, strangling me with his arm coils), when James ran off to my room and came back waving a book. I thought, oh, good, enough boa constricting, let's see what he wants to read.

E.M. Forster's Aspects of the novel. Hmm. Thoughts of James, the budding literary theorist were quickly dispelled as James signed "Please milk Mama". So Marco was right. But I will say that James has astonishingly good taste in reading material--he always knows which books I'm in the middle of. He probably wakes up in the middle of the night and peruses my Goodreads selections.

Despite this, I decide to put on A Conversation with Koko instead while James has some milk. His interest in milk fades as he realizes that there is a gorilla using ASL on the television, and he goes over and looks her over, signs what she does, and looks back at me. It is really wonderful to watch his surprised, pleased face whenever he sees someone new signing.

Isabel, meanwhile, made her first foray into counting backwards last night, in the dark, in her car seat, very softly: "9, 8, 7, 6, 5...6, 7, 8, 9, 10" while swinging her feet in her new brown mary janes.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This one goes up to eleven.

Prompted by Isabel's more enthusiastic response to my dad's prompts for speech when they were directed at someone other than her, I looked up afterwards what I could remember from what he'd said: "parrot rival method".

Pretty sure I'd never typed that before.

I was interested in the "model-rival method" that psychologist Irene Pepperberg had used with her parrot, Alex, at Brandeis, because I had originally thought that James might have a similar reaction once Isabel started talking. I thought he would be motivated to vocalize when he saw interactions that I had with him generating a different response in his sister, but what really happened was that Isabel became more interested in signing than in vocalizing herself. That is, it worked. On her, not him, and James' system, signing, took precedence. James, contrary to what I thought at first, has never had a problem with motivation. I was astounded when I realized that he signed, and spoke for that matter, before Isabel did. His reasons for barely being able to speak are different from the reasons for Isabel's expressive language delay, and the squawks of the unlearned parrot, and the way he eventually comes to speak will be just as different as the ways they will. Diane Sherman has had some success using Pepperberg's version of the model-rival method with small groups of children with autism. Autism hasn't much in common with Down syndrome. Still, it would be interesting to apply these principles, consciously this time, having both kids be models and rivals, and see what happens with both.

It turns out Alex was the parrot Kim mentioned to me last week who "knew about zero". I was skeptical, because (it's a character defect, and) it seemed from what I knew about numerical history (I mostly enjoy math when it's historical, or when it's impossible), zero was a pretty late concept in humans. So I'm interested to read about it. Here is the article. It's not often you can get this kind of thing without a subscription.

I've been interested in counting, too, because of two things. I've been bogged down in the book, The Psychobiology of Down Syndrome, for, I think, a year now, and the studies on the stages of understanding counting were fascinating. Also, counting was one of Isabel's first interests, and numbers perhaps her first attempts at words. She's gone through a few stages so far: learning a list of vocalizations, knowing that, aside from a vocal performance, counting is something we do as we pick up one object at a time, and the dawning knowledge that sometimes we count backwards, and why do we do that?! She sometimes furrows her brow at this, and sometimes smiles delightedly, but never, never participates in it. She also never counts past eleven outside of her immediate family, and never past fourteen no matter who's listening. Anything beyond that, to judge by her laughter when I suggest fifteen, is just ridiculous.