An ezine for students and teachers of
American Sign Language.

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 Jan, 2007   

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Hello ASL Heroes!
Here's hoping you're having a wonderful new year!
William Vicars, Ed.D. &

In a message dated 11/30/2006 4:46:17 PM Pacific Standard Time, Csvillars writes:
Dr. Vicars,  
... I have a special needs child who just happens to have Down Syndrome, Autism, HOH, Low Vision, Apraxia, SID and low muscle tone to name a few of her dx's.    I have been trying to get the school to formally teach her sign language since 1995.  I have heard just about every excuse you can imagine but the most frequent ones were: She does sign approximations, not everyone knows sign, she is not spontaneous with her signing to which my response has been, as long as we know what her approximations mean then I'm ok with that, it's communication, as for not being spontaneous how can she be when those working with her do not know sign and about not everyone not knowing sign, I guess I am a little arrogant because my response is they can learn.  Well after all these years I finally got approval for formal sign lessons to be initiated.  For years I have been saying because of her fine motor deficits that we need to work with OT to help her be able to form the signs.  I was just introduced to a book that isn't new but is new to me called Pre-Sign Language Motor Skills by Marsha Dunn Klein and I was wondering if you have any other books on this topic to suggest?  It just makes sense to me that if a person has low muscle tone that affects their fine motor skills that there should be some information on this topic.  My child prefers to use sign especially when she is in public.  She will either shut down completely or go to such a low whisper that no one can hear her when she is in public or around strangers and will only sign at these times.  I have listed that her preferred mode of communication is sign on  her IEP.  She has a moderate to severe sloping hearing loss and the way it was explained to me is that the level where most women speak is where she has the most loss and of course who is teaching her, all women.  I am not trying so much to teach her a language but to give her a mode of communication even if it has to be adapted or modified to meet her needs.  She needs a way to tell her thoughts, her feelings her needs etc.  What I worry about and it's not limited to teaching sign is that they want to work on one thing at a time and she doesn't grasp the concept as readily as she does when it used functionally.  At home we don't wait until she has mastered a sign before introducing a new sign, we try to teach signs as she needs them and her vocabulary expands.  So if she wants  a  potato we teach (after I look it up at your web site) her the sign for potato. If she points to the window we teach that sign, basically like you teach toddlers to communicate.  Most people's thinking is if you teach them to sign their very basic needs that is all they need.  I so totally disagree with that she should be able to express things just like the rest of us.  Anyway to get back to what I am talking about, how do I express how important it is to teach sign functionally and not like a robot? I just want to be able to have a conversation with my child no matter what mode or combination of modes we converse in.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter.  Your web site in always in my favorites and I use it almost daily.    Thanks,   Carol Villars
She isn't typical, She's Trisha!
16301 The Glebe Lane Charles City, VA
Hello Carol,
I agree with you completely on all the points you have made in your email.
It comes down to time, money, and effort.
School personnel are paid to do a certain job.  That job is defined in their "job description" and influenced by many "guidelines" as well as various laws.
Each time a parent requests an accommodation for their child it creates more work for the school personnel. Thus even if the idea is good and would be in the child's best interest it is an uphill battle because most employees simply do not want additional work.
So next you look into methods of "encouraging" school personnel to do more work:
1.  Positive motivation:  promise to add pleasure when the activity is completed (your daughter receives the support she needs)
2.  Positive motivation: promise to remove pain when the activity is completed
3.  Negative motivation: remove pleasure until the activity is completed
4.  Negative motivation:  Add pain or threaten to cause pain until the activity is completed
So there you have it in a nutshell.  Pick your method of "motivating" the school district.
My wife and I had to "threaten" to sue the local school district before they finally agreed to provide the supports we needed for our daughter Sarah.
That was "method number 4" -- "Threaten to cause pain."
It seems to me that all too often "method number 4" is the only one that works.  But I encourage you to try method number 1 as much as possible, (that is after all how they get killer whales to jump 20 feet out of the water on command).  Throwing them a fish (thank you note) every time they break the surface of the water (provide support for your daughter) is a lot more fun than suing them. 
It helps to become an "over communicator."  You've got to squeak so loud and so often that they can't ignore you.  Then when they do what you want, throw 'em a fish.
Best wishes for your success.
Dr. Bill

Editors note:  Jeanne Pease, (an ASL instructor in the Tulsa area), upon reading this article had this to say about the situation:
<<  One option that Carol may not have considered for her daughter is a communication device of some kind.  Could be as simple as a communication board or book with pictures of her vocabulary words, or it could be an electronic communication board with pictures that you press for spoken language.  Those options would allow  Trisha to communicate with anyone in her environment instead of restricting her communication only to those who know her signs.  I am deaf, and work with students who have a wide range of special needs.  I use sign language with some of my students, but others are much more physically involved; those students have the most success with communication boards.  One is non-verbal, and he prefers using a communication book and gestures, even though sign language is used with him.  Another is also non-verbal, very bright,  but with very limited physical movement.  She has a motorized wheelchair that she moves by pressing her head against the headrest.  That's how physically limited she is.   She uses an electronic communication board that she operates with her head pressed against a control button.  She can select a picture and have the pre-programmed word or phrase spoken out loud for her.>>

In a message dated 1/19/2007 12:01:29 PM Pacific Standard Time, Key.Largo@ writes:
Hello, Bill!
Hello, I am a Sign Language Interpreter for a school district in Texas.  I discovered your website while doing a search for puzzles.  On your site I was delighted to see a page with a few fingerspelling word searches.  What a neat idea!  On the page, you said that if one is
interested in more of these puzzles, you would make more.  Consider this note as an encouragement to make more. ...
I will pass the word search page on to the teacher of our sign language club.  ...
Best regards,
Hello Key,
Actually, I did go ahead and put together over a hundred fingerseeks and put them into a book.
I'm still in the process of figuring out the best way to publish it and the right amount to charge for it.
But for now if you want some free fingerseek sheets, visit:
and click on "preview this book."  Then scroll down about half way and click on the arrow on the right a few times to get to the fingerseeks. There should be seven or so pages available for you.  I "right clicked" on one of them and chose "copy." Then I pasted it into my word processor file, adjusted the margins to ZERO, and then resized the picture a bit and printed it.  It came out perfectly.
(Dr. Vicars from ASLU)

GOOD NEWS!  I have now posted TEN (10) fingerseeks to my website.  See:

In a message dated 12/11/2006 10:03:56 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, pdamota@ writes:
I know you can start the "age" sign with with "d" moving out from the chin and then becoming the number or with the sign for "age" moving out and becoming the number.  My book also notes, but isn't clear, that you can start with the number at your chin and then move out either keeping the number (ie. for numbers 1-9) or starting off the number at the chin and moving into the 2nd number (ie. 34, 86, etc)  The 3 handshape would start at the chin and move into a 4.  The 8 handshape would start at the chin and move into a 6.  Any thoughts?  How do YOU sign ages yourself?
Note:  I do not do age signs starting with a "d" and moving out into the number.  I don't know where you are getting that "d" concept from.  For the concept "one year old" I do use an "INDEX" finger at the chin and then move it downward and outward, but and index finger or "one"- handshape is not the same as a "d" handshape." 
I also do not have a problem with using the traditional sign for old which is done with a "C" handshape that turns into an "S" handshape and then signing the number "one" to mean "one year old."
But to answer your question a bit more fully, I'll go ahead and discuss:"Age numbering"
In addition to many years of observation I have interviewed many individuals regarding how they sign "ages."  I'm happy to share my observations with you.
*  There is a lot of variety.  It is important to note that if you observe several different Deaf people using age-related signs you are likely to see several different versions of those signs.
*  We have to consider that often two or more people contribute separate parts of the meaningful whole.
Two people discussing "age" often work together to construct "meaning." (Dual Party Construction of Meaning). For example:  Bob might ask Mary, "YOUR SON, how-OLD?"  To which Mary might reply, "THREE."  The whole age concept is "three years old." Bob contributed the sign "OLD" and Mary contributed the sign "THREE."  So you have a single "concept" being created by two people.  There is no need for Mary to repeat the sign "OLD" in her reply since Bob already introduced that concept.
*  Mary is likely to simply hold up a "3" hand (palm back).  Note, while signing "YOUR SON" Bob's eyebrows were up and his head tilted a bit forward.  While signing "OLD" Bob's eyebrows were somewhat furrowed and his head tilted back ever so slightly so as to express the concept "old" as a question, "how old?"  Bob didn't need a separate sign for "HOW" since it was expressed "non-manually" (without using his hands) via his eyebrows and head tilt while doing the sign OLD.
*  Suppose Mary initiated the conversation and the concept of "age" hadn't been introduced into that conversation yet, it is likely that Mary would have signed, "MY SON, old-3."  The "old-3" would have been expressed by touching the index finger of a "3" handshape to the chin and then moving the hand downward and outward.  However, I have observed many Deaf people also signing this as "OLD 3" by using two separate signs: OLD and THREE. 
*   Classroom signing and real world signing are often very different.  It is fine for a teacher to tell her students that the "right way" to sign "three years old" is to use the "old-3" sign which uses a single handshape and numerical incorporation.  But we do need to be careful to recognize that if we were to go out into the real world and secretly videotape 100 Deaf people doing that sign, we would very likely see a number of them using two separate signs to express "OLD 3."  What is "right" and wrong in a language is nothing more than what the crowd is and isn't doing.  If the crowd does it long enough, the old grammarians die and new grammar texts grudgingly begin to include the newer forms.
*  Certain variations of age-signs could be considered the product of assimilation rather than being examples of intentional numerical incorporation.  By this I mean, since the sign "OLD" and the following number sign are done so close together we may in fact simply be seeing one sign assimilate characteristics of the other sign.  This would be similar to the way you will sometimes see the sign "I" done with a "bent hand" when signing the phrase "I KNOW."  The sign "I" in that case assimilates the handshape of the following sign, "KNOW."  This process could be applied to age-signs which is to say a case could be made that the sign OLD is simply assimilating the handshape of the sign THREE because the two signs are so close in proximity.
*  Not all numbers are created equally.  Some numbers are more complex than others.  For example, certain variations of numbers (e.g. 23, 25, 35), have internal movement.   The more complex a number, the less likely we are to add even more complexity by using numerical incorporation.
*  Some numbers have handshapes that are more conducive to touching the chin than others.  It is slightly more difficult to touch your chin with the middle finger of the number "9" than it is to touch your chin with the index finger of the number "8." Those numbers which use the extended index finger are more likely to be touched to the chin that other  numbers which do not extend the index finger.
In a message dated 12/12/2006 1:36:43 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, a student writes writes:
I just wanted to share with you a story that I thought was kind of funny.

My husband and I are recently married, and about one week after we got married my husband asked me if I had practiced signing my new (last) name. I got a very excited look on my face, and said "no!" Then I began to fingerspell J-E-N  B-O-S-S..... I turned to my husband who had this really confused look on his face. I quickly realized he meant my signature!  We both got a good laugh at that.


Thanks!  I love it!

In a message dated 12/21/2006 12:31:37 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, jaye writes:
Would I be wrong now trying to get my daughter to stop vocalizing? I know it would be very hard for her to stop after 25 years of teaching. Or does it matter? People really do look at her funny.
- Jaye
This is not a matter of right and wrong.  It is a matter of choices and tradeoffs.  One of my daughters, Sarah, has a cranio-facial birth defect (Aperts Syndrome).  People look at her funny too.  People wouldn't look at her funny if I didn't take her with me when I go places.  She could stay home all day and no one would look at her funny.  Or those people's "looks" would turn into expressions of horror if I were to I fly into a murderous rage at them for looking at my daughter funny. That wouldn't work out too well since my daughter would become distraught as the police carried me away. Besides, I'm a nice guy and I really don't want to hurt anybody, I just want them to not be hurting my daughter's feelings by staring.  Hmmm. No easy answers exist. And the "problem" will only become more acute as Sarah gets older and becomes more aware.
To cope, my wife and I developed a sense of humor about it all. When Sarah was a baby and we were in the store and somebody else's kid would come up to her and ask (as kids tend to do) "What's wrong with her?"  We would sometimes respond with a totally serious facial expression, "We left her in the car on a hot day and she melted.  So make sure your mom and dad never leave you in the car, okay?" 
There are those who would think our approach is terrible and inappropriate.  To which I respond that I pray my daughter can develop her own crazy sense of humor as she gets older, because indeed it is the only sane way to deal with a very diverse and challenging world. To me, my daughter is beautiful.  Her opinion is important to me.  The impolite stares of anyone else are simply not worth responding to.
Now, regarding your daughter's vocalizing.  You could "try to get her to stop" but you've got to consider the opportunity cost.  If she is trading "funny looks" for being able to "communicate to a wider audience " then maybe it is a good trade in her mind.  Also chances are she is very aware of the "funny looks" and has already made the decision to continue voicing because of the benefits. If she stops voicing so that people won't look at her funny, is that really an improvement in her circumstances?  And if you encourage her to stop voicing so that people won't look at her funny such a request will probably be perceived as a statement of "I'm embarrassed to be around you when you voice because people look at you funny and thus think less of me by extension because you are my daughter."
I think you would be better off ignoring the funny looks of others and instead focusing your gaze on the beauty of your daughter.

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