Constance’s first diagnosis was apraxia. She had a speech delay and she was too young to know its nature.
Some people who have apraxia are able to speak as adults and some are not. All of them understand the verbal language of others. People with apraxia communicate through sign language and/or communication devices.
Knowing that there is a large deaf community, American Sign Language (ASL) seemed like a good first start.
My background in ASL was very limited. When I was a child, my mom taught me the alphabet in ASL. Also, when I served as program coordinator for a service provider for individuals with developmental and cognitive challenges, I organized a free ASL course for employees, which I took. I enjoyed that class more than I’ve ever enjoyed any class because I was slightly better at it than my friend Carla. Carla is better at everything than me, so this felt like a real coup d'état. I retained nearly nothing from the class that would be helpful to Constance. As a result, Constance and I learned ASL together.
I used online ASL dictionaries to print thousands of flashcards that had the sign on one side in illustrated hands. On the other side was a photo of the thing and the word spelled out. I made two sets of the flashcards. One I put on physical things in the environment and the other I used to practice with her daily. I would still speak to her verbally.
One of the joys of parenting is getting to meet your kids where they are.
A sacred tradition is having a person who is deaf give you a sign for your name. I got the honor for Constance. Her sign was the letter “C” circling your heart. I love that sign.
When Constance started to speak, we continued to sign until she didn’t want or need to anymore. It took years until we fully phased out the sign for “waiting” because it was a useful thing to do with your fingers when you are having trouble waiting.
A little after her second birthday, we realized Constance was hyperlexic. We would hold a book open and say, “Constance, point to the bear.” She would point to all of the words ‘bear’ in the book. I wondered if the ASL flashcards and labeled pictures all over the house was a contributing factor.
Given all of the challenges that Constance had learning to speak, I couldn’t stop immodestly telling people about what an awesome reader she was. I wanted people to know she was a smart cookie, despite her speech delay. Imagine the most braggadocios mother ever, then add espresso. I was shameless.
Constance preferred to read to herself over having someone else read to her. That way, she could go at her fast pace while rereading anything she found particularly interesting. To encourage her to play with other kids, her teachers at Cherry Preschool would put her favorite books up where she couldn’t reach them. Otherwise, she’d go off and sit by herself and read.
Constance and I enjoyed lying in bed silently reading to ourselves while eating potato chips or veggie straws on weekends. It was a special time together. Little llama and her mama spent a lot of happy, contented time that way.