Sign Language and Adoption: Getting Started

August 28, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

You might think that sign language is only for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. We’d like to encourage you to reconsider. Signing is an incredibly valuable tool in any adoptive parent’s tool belt. It makes communicating with your newly adopted child exponentially easier – no matter their age or special need. And when communication happens, bonding can happen. Still skeptical? Read on. We think this month’s feature, Sign Language and Adoption, just might change your mind.



For us, moving forward intentionally with American Sign Language (ASL) became a part of our every day. It might look different for you and your family, and that’s totally okay. We didn’t set goals, or have designated time set aside for ASL instruction – but for some that may be a great way to get going on purpose. Do your thing. As you start introducing ASL, you will get a feel for how your family responds. How ever you decide to step into using ASL, present it to your family in a way that each of you sees the benefit and the joy it can bring into your home. Most of all, have fun with it!

There’s no perfect or standard way to get started, so I’ll just share what we chose to do and what we learned along the way. And I’ll list some resources that are helpful as well.

Depending on the age of your children, you may want to take the time with your older blessings to dig into how ASL was born. It’s quite a beautiful story, and a great opportunity to look at this chapter in history and how one man took the time to care. It was our 16 year old daughter who was doing a research paper for her high school ASL class who shared with us about how Dr. Thomas H. Gallaudet had compassion on his neighbor’s daughter, who was deaf. He was determined to give her language. Fast forward over 100 years and look what his love for others has done! Don’t miss out on sharing with your family the history of ASL. One man saying yes with love towards his neighbor has changed the world.


When we brought our daughter Tessa home, she was 27 months and had a few signs already. Tessa is hearing, but has significant speech delays, so giving her a voice was critical.

As it is with many of our little ones, food is a big deal. We could have started with signs of things around the home, animals, or basic conversation, but we realized pretty quickly that giving her signs for her favorite foods was where we needed to get started.

Our foods had new smells, textures and names that she had never experienced. And we could see that trying to verbally produce the name for something she wanted was stressful. It was important for us to try to make meal and snack time as stress-free as possible. (To start out, let me make a point to say that we always say the word as we sign it. That is very important for our little ones who have any amount of hearing or verbal skills.)

Let me give an example of how a mealtime conversation might go…

“It’s time for breakfast! What would you like for me to make for you this morning?” I might use just two signs here, “breakfast” and “make” while I’m speaking… “Would you like pancakes (sign) or cereal (sign) with milk (sign)?” I then sign and say pancake, cereal and milk one more time as they consider their options.

You might be surprised how quickly they give a sign for one of the options. You may need to use your hands on theirs to help manipulate the sign. Feel free to repeat the sign and say the word at this point several times, being careful not to withhold food that is ready to eat during instruction.

If the meal is made, talk about what you are eating…

“Let’s sit down and eat dinner.” You could simultaneously give the signs for “sit” and “eat”. “We are having noodles tonight.” Then give the sign for noodles. “Can you show me with your hands the sign for noodles?” Let the whole family join in learning the sign for the foods you are serving.

It’s very common for me not to know the sign for the foods, I’m very dependent on my 18 and 16 year old daughters who know ASL very well to give me the sign I’m looking for. If they would be reading this right now they would be laughing and shaking their heads yes! They are so very patient with me.

But when they aren’t around, I grab my phone and have a couple go-to sites. I’ll share those shortly. All that to say, I’m often learning the sign just moments before I’m teaching it. You can totally do this!

Often the conversation might be more like this…

“Do you want ketchup with your fries?” Oh stink… what’s the sign for ketchup? Anyone? Where are your big sisters? Anyone? No? Ok, hold on, let me go look it up.

Just keeping it real friends. I’m no pro.

As we moved on to other signs, we looked for opportunities to give new signs throughout the day. As the girls would be playing, I’d look for ways to give signs for some of their favorite things, “book”, “baby”, “jump”, “dog”, and so on. While reading a book, I’d give a few signs, “blue”, “chicken”, “sleep”…

Honestly, looking back, I didn’t give signs all day long. I think we can overwhelm their little minds if we interject all day long, sign after sign. Take your time with it, and be patient.


We have had moments where the girls would be super hungry for additional signs. Maybe I would give a sign for an animal, they would learn the sign and then one of them would then make sound of another animal. Go with it. When they are done, they will let you know. Don’t feel the pressure to go around the zoo in your mind and give sign after sign, but do give them the signs they are asking for. Go at their pace.

In the ASL community, it is appropriate that a sign name be given to the friend or family member. One doesn’t choose their own sign name. Our daughters were given sign names by our friends’ son who is deaf. Often a sign name is the signed first letter of their name used in a way that focuses on a special characteristic. Our daughter Emma has a big dimpled smile, so our friends’ son gave her sign name as the letter “e” twisting next to her cheek to indicate her dimples. Tessa has his heart (little crush going on) so he gave her sign name with the letter “t” at her heart.

Within your family, there is benefit to giving each other sign names. Have fun at dinner one night working on what they will be. Sign names come in very handy. This summer I have used sign names often at the pool. I might look over at one of my older kids and sign, “Where’s Tessa?” They would sign back, “With Clayton.” No need to yell across the pool. I have loved this about using ASL… we don’t have to yell anymore.

In church, my son might get my attention and give the sign for bathroom. Often I sign back, “No, wait.” Because, my goodness, if you can sit through an entire movie at the theater, you can sit through a message during the church service. He’s caught on so now, as we head into service, I’ll see him sign “bathroom” and off he goes at an appropriate time. Practicing ASL as a family is so very practical.

I’m terrible at fingerspelling, so for me sign names rock. Fingerspelling starts with learning the alphabet and ASL signs for each letter. When reading fingerspelling, it’s the sounds that you are ‘hearing’ in your head that gives you the word that is being spelled out. Fingerspelling is used initially for names, but once a sign name is given then their names aren’t fingerspelled. Look up a sign for items first and, if there isn’t a sign, then you would fingerspell it.

At this stage – our girls are preschool age – we really don’t fingerspell. But we have learned the alphabet song right along with the ASL alphabet. Learning the sounds for each letter while giving the sign for the letter is next, so when fingerspelling comes, they’ll have a solid foundation of knowing the sounds and signs for the letters.

There are many words that our daughters really struggle with articulating, despite them trying hard to verbalize, sometimes I just don’t know what they are trying to communicate. When this happens I try this first, “Can you show me with your hands?” or “Do you have the sign?” If they don’t, I jump on giving them the sign so we can reduce the frustration, always repeating the correct way to pronounce the word.

As we are pretty far into this, we’ve been enjoying the retention that they’ve shown as well as how just a sign can give them the clue they need to pronounce the word. For example, Ava struggles with retrieving labeled words. We know she knows the answer, but often struggles to retrieve it and plan it out. We love seeing how in this situation we just give the sign (no words verbally) and she will retrieve it verbally all on her own! This is huge for her! So, if I show her a yellow balloon and ask, “Ava, what color is this balloon?” she might say nothing at first, or say blue. We know she knows it’s yellow. So I will sign “yellow” and that’s all it takes, she will confidently blurt out “yellow”. Love how it’s building her confidence!


Let me go ahead and give you some great places to get started, resources that we have found helpful.
Signing Time is our top fav for the kids. I don’t think it’s on NetFlix anymore, but you can find some of their videos floating around to purchase and sometimes on YouTube. It’s filled with lots of songs and practical signs. I love that there are always kids of all abilities and ethnicities signing.

My Smart Hands is a YouTube channel that has great instruction. I’ve used these videos to introduce ASL to children’s songs. We love searching for our favorite bedtime or children’s songs with ASL on YouTube.

You may have some ASL children’s resources that you love, if so, please share in the comments!

For me, here are sites that are my favs… is a simple way to look up the words you want to see the sign for. Each word has a video, which is really the best way to learn signs, not a picture. It’s important to learn and use the facial expressions that go along with many signs and sometimes a little movement may change the sign completely (“ketchup” and “promise” are similar with just an added movement). This site has a Religious Signs segment which I love! So here you can not only access the Word Dictionary, but you can also take advantage of the quizzes they offer. You can also learn Conversational Phrases and access ASL for Babies here as well.

Signing is another helpful site, similar to ASLpro. is a unique site that my oldest daughter shared with me. Her ASL teacher had her students go to this site daily to watch the devotions that they post. You can do this as a family, watch the devotions being signed and read along as well. Watching someone sign conversations is really helpful – especially seeing how signs are used practically and how the signer uses facial expressions.

Remember to give your little ones signs not only for things, but for feelings as well. It’s not just our desire for them to be able to sign what they want, but to be able to express how they feel. Watch how ASL connects to their little hearts and let it be a part of their healing process.

Our daughters are improving in their speech, they both have come so far, but they continue to struggle with articulation and motor planning. When we bring ASL into the language journey we get to see success and in turn their confidence in our relationship builds. Even at age 3 and 4 years, the girls aren’t able to say “I love you” with great articulation, so when I leave the house, the little ones standing at the door waving good bye and blowing kisses, it’s the flash of the “I love you” sign that gets me every time. Every. Single. Time.

We know the verbal words will come, in their own way and in their own time, in the meantime we love seeing the relief as our daughters retain and give the signs that have been gifted to them. We truly see it that way, ASL is a gift of connection and building trust with our daughters. And this gift has so much more to give to all of us.

– guest post by Amber

Meet the Contributors: Rebecca

August 27, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

Continuing today with our series in which we share a short Q and A with one of our contributors to give y’all, our faithful readers, a little more behind-the-scenes insight into the amazing group of writers assembled here. And it will also give each of our contributors a chance to share their heart in a way a traditional post might not allow.


Q: Tell us a little about your family.

My husband, Mark, and I live outside Atlanta, Georgia, with our four small people, one biological and three born in China. I am from Kentucky and he is from New York. We met on our very first day at the University of Kentucky. 

Q: What led you to adopt from China?

The seed of adoption was planted on my heart as a teenager. When I met Mark, I gave him the head’s up that I was dreaming of adoption. It could have been an easy out for him, but instead, he embraced the dream and it gradually became our shared family vision, even as a dating couple.

Q: Which provinces are your children from?

Claire: Sichuan
Eli: Hebei
Evelyn: Jiangsu, but was moved to Heartbridge Healing Home in Beijing

Q: What special needs are represented in your family?

Cleft lip, cleft palate, tethered spinal cord with dermal sinus tract, hernias, anal rectal malformation, neurogenic bladder, hydronephrosis and solitary kidney

Q: What is your favorite aspect of adoption? Hardest?

That there are three funny, spunk-filled, personality-loaded little people with beating hearts around our breakfast table is my very favorite aspect of adoption. It’s an everyday miracle to be called mommy by children born on the other side of the globe.

Helplessly looking into the faces of your newly adopted child and seeing trauma and grief in their tears, their expressions, their coping, and their defenses is the hardest aspect of adoption. Even as parents, we’ll never fully grasp or understand how deep and wide their hurt is, or will be as they grow. You know there are hours, scars, and loses that can never be accounted for, and also know that though your love can help, it can’t erase.

Q: In just a few sentences, share two tips applying to any part of the adoption process.

Waiting Stage: When you are on US soil and your child is in an orphanage, or even a healing home, it is hard to wrap your head around why God wouldn’t want your child in the care of his/her family immediately. Yet, so often, it’s everything but immediate. We wait and wait and our processes bring obstacles. But, if we trust that the Author of Our Stories is who He says He is, we must come to accept that God is ALWAYS at work for His glory and our good. So if he’s asking you to wait, it’s purposeful rather than purposeless. Lean in.

In China/Newly Home: Grace upon grace. Throw grace around like confetti, onto yourself, your new child and all the people in your life. Not only is adoption hard, but it’s sacred, holy work that we enter into with our fully human emotions and fragile hearts.

Q: How has adoption grown/stretched/changed you?

It has demonstrated to me that God is very big and I am very small. My illusion of control over my life and my family has been burst, and though painful, it brings deep release.

Q: Can you share a few of your favorite blog posts shared on NHBO? Some from your personal blog?

I am so very honored to write with an amazing group of talented contributors. Some favorites are Carrie McKean’s “A Birth Story” and Mandy Campbell-Moore’s “Love is Patient”.

My favorite from my own blog is “God of My Children”, because it is so much of what God has been teaching me about parenting.

Q: What is your favorite book? Quote? Verse?

Favorite books: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry and A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman. Plus, I’m a Modern Mrs. Darcy fan and love her recommendations.

Quote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with our one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver

Verse: Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ. Phil 1:6


Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?

I am a dark chocolate, tea, nature, around the table with my people, travel show (I’ll Have What Phil is Having and A Chef’s Life), podcast and all things Fall junkie.

My dream and prayer is that my love of writing and my passion for orphans, family preservation and the nations will combine to give a voice for those in need. If someone will send me to China, Africa or Haiti, I promise to spill as many words as I can to raise awareness and money!


Can you share a favorite “mom hack” that makes life easier for you?

Don’t do everything. Put your kids to work! Even small people can help with around the house chores. Next, force yourself to let their lack of cleaning perfection go.


If you could share one parting thought with someone considering special needs adoption, what would it be?

Tell yourself that the needs on the special needs checklist are not scary, just unknown. Release yourself from savior mode and trust that it is God who provides, heals, goes before us, and hems us in. His resources and His capacity are unlimited.

Waiting to be Chosen: Manny

August 26, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Oh, Manny. You make our hearts smile.

Born in June 2011, Manny arrived at his orphanage when he was one. He has remained at the orphanage ever since, where he has captured the hearts of the staff.


When Manny first arrived at the orphanage, he was very weak. With the consistent love and care of the staff, he started to gain strength and make progress in many areas. At 18 months, he began to receive physical therapy. At that time, he could raise his head when lying down, roll over, and babble. He could not yet sit independently.

By the time he was two. through hard work and persistence, he was able to sit independently and had begun to crawl. He was excited to see his physical therapist and would excitedly call out “sister!” By the age of two and a half, he could take off his own socks and shoes, talk with other children, and follow commands such as “get ready to eat your meal” and “give that to your sister”.

As the months moved along, Manny became more and more independent, learning new words and skills including dressing himself, eating independently, counting, imitating sounds, and asking questions. He now counts to 50 clearly and smoothly, sings several children’s songs as well as reciting ancient poems. He enjoys imaginative games such as playing house.

He easily expresses his desires and enjoys listening to stories. He isn’t afraid to say “no” to unreasonable requests by his peers, and can judge the difference between right and wrong. He loves animals, airplanes and trains. He is good at entertaining himself at appropriate times, and is full of patience and love towards the younger children.


Manny’s official special need is cerebral palsy, which primarily affects his legs. He wears braces on his legs and is able to walk without support. He is not always steady, however. His file includes detailed growth and development reports, vaccination records, lab results, a doctor’s report, a video, and several pictures. WACAP staff and volunteers met Manny on an April 2016 trip and there is a lot of information available for interested families to review.

During the recent visit by WACAP to his orphanage, he was excited to play with the bubbles and toss the balloon. He laughed almost the whole time and his giggles were contagious. He can take care of all self-care tasks like feeding, dressing, and using the restroom. His speech is very clear. He speaks in full sentences and is able to ask and answer questions.

His file was recently prepared. It notes that Manny has an understanding of life in the orphanage, and loves all the caregivers and children. But he is also eager to have his own mother and father and believes his parents will find him. He’s even already started practicing how to say Dad and Mom.

Oh, my heart.


Manny’s file is currently with WACAP and he has a $4,000 grant available to qualified families. Seriously interested families should download and complete their pre-application (no fee, no commitment) found here.

You may email the completed pre-application to with your request and the first available case manager will respond.

How to Find Your Tribe

August 25, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

bamboo group

“Your people are my people, your God my God. Not even death itself is going to come between us.” Ruth 1:16-17 When we started the adoption process, we were not even considering Down syndrome. It was too scary. In fact, the irony of it, is we decided our cut-off for having bio kids was age …Read More

Beyond Folded Hands: Praying for China’s Orphans

August 24, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


I’m not an artist. I’m better with words. At least, that’s what I’ve always believed, that’s what I’ve always told myself. I feel at home with a pen in my hand. It’s familiar and comfortable. I know what to do with it, and I am confident that the ink on the page will eventually produce …Read More

Waiting to be Chosen: Lorelai

August 24, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Say hello to lovely Lorelai! Born in June 2003, she is a beautiful 13 year old girl who will age out of the system and no longer be eligible to be adopted next summer. This outgoing, cheerful, and active girl is happiest when helping others. Her Chinese name means “hope” and it is the hope …Read More

Sign Language and Adoption: The Gift of Communication

August 23, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments


You’ve made the decision to adopt. Your homestudy is underway or maybe even finished. You’ve taken adoption classes and read book after book. You’ve worked hard to prepare your home, your family and your hearts to bring your little one home. But what about communication? Have you prepared to communicate with your child? For most …Read More

Lessons in Fatherhood

August 22, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments


While it seems like forever ago now, in reality it was only about three and a half years ago that my wife and I began praying about adoption…. Like all parents my wife and I had dreams of healthy babies, healthy incomes, and a healthy marriage. Well, after fifteen, almost sixteen, years of marriage we’ve …Read More

When God Honors Our “Yes”: Our Sign Language Journey, Part Two

August 21, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments


In Part one I described how the adoption of our daughter, Ava, born with cleft lip and palate and deafness, set us on a journey to become skilled in sign language. Our desire to support her ability to communicate with others led us on a roller-coaster of experiences and emotions, which culminated in our decision …Read More

Find My Family: Maryanne and Luke

August 20, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Luke MAA Collage 2016

Meet Maryanne. Maryanne is like the precious picture she drew of a little girl reaching out to a mother with tears in her eyes and a beautiful rainbow in the background. She has a light about her and an inner and outer beauty that makes her shine. Maryanne is a beautiful 9-year-old girl who came …Read More

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