Sign Language and Adoption: The Gift of Communication

August 23, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 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 of us, it is not realistic to learn the language of our child’s home country. We might teach ourselves a crash course in basic words or even download a translation app. But for an adult to learn a second language is, most times, not even realistic. Adoption brain has set in and we can barely remember to brush our teeth or feed the dog. Who wants to add learning a second language into those hectic days before travel?

But, you and I both know that communication is so important.

Communication, in any form, speaks volumes to your new child who is undoubtedly afraid, confused and overwhelmed. Even just your tone of voice and body language can be such a comfort to their wounded heart.

What if you had a language that you were able to begin using with your child immediately?


As a mother of three children with Down syndrome, one biological, two adopted from China, sign language has been a life saver for us. It has given all three of our children a language where there was none. Instead of being faced with a frustrated child who can not express themselves and their needs, we have three children who can tell us exactly what they need in a way that we can understand.

Many times, when they use their signs to communicate, I can’t help but wonder, what if we had never taught them to sign? What would our days look like? I truly can’t even imagine. It breaks my heart to imagine all the things going on in their little minds never having a way to come out. They have so much to say!

In the case of Down syndrome and many other special needs, verbal speech is often delayed until the early childhood years. Add typical orphanage delays and lack of formal education and delayed language is not surprising. Sign language is a great bridge until speech comes or even a lifelong full language if speech never comes for your child.


There are those that will tell you that sign language will delay speech. Momma, hear me on this one. Don’t believe that. Not even for a minute. I love what Rachel Coleman, from Signing Time, has to say about signing.

“Language doesn’t delay language. The fear of signing is ridiculous and thinking that a child will not talk because they first signed is as preposterous as saying, “Don’t let your child crawl or they will never learn to walk.” Babies crawl before they walk and they sign before they talk. If your child has the ability to deliver a spoken language, they will acquire that skill whether or not you sign with them. If they happen to have a speech delay or a disability that gets in the way of speaking, then thank heavens you are signing with them and giving them a way to be understood. If your child’s speech is delayed, it is not the signing that delays speech…it is something else entirely, because communication doesn’t delay communication.” – Rachel Coleman

Now, I bet you’re wondering how you can prepare to sign with your child even before they come home. First, don’t feel like you need college level courses or immersion in the deaf community. Those would be great options, if you were so inclined, but for most families, starting simple is the way to go.


Think back on the first words and phrases you learned with your hearing/speaking children. Probably some of the first words beyond momma and daddy were “more”, “please”, “eat”, “drink”, “play” and “no-no”. That is the same great place to start with signing. You can learn with your child. Start slow. As their needs grow, add signs to your vocabulary.

A great way to learn is through the Signing Time series. You have the option of purchasing DVDs or even subscribing to their app called Signing Time TV for on-the-go watching anywhere.

I can’t think of a better way for you to prepare for your child’s homecoming than to spend time preparing yourself to communicate with them. Our son and daughter adopted from China were both signing within hours of being placed in my arms. In that short amount of time, they already had a way to begin to communicate their needs.

What a gift.

So as you’re making your list to check off before you bring your little one home, add sign language to your list. Learn ten to twenty signs that you think will come in handy in country. Then, add to your list after you get home and the jet lag has worn off. The best gift you will give to your child is the love of a family. A close second will be the gift of communication.

– guest post by Jenifer: blog || facebook

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 at least got one out of three. We may have missed the other two by a wide margin but make no mistake, they weren’t missed due to some run of bad luck or a series of unfortunate events. No, we made choices, intentional choices as to how we would live our lives… or should I say how God would have us live our lives. These were not easy choices to make, in fact we often labored in prayer until the last minute, when God would finally reveal to us his will.

This is how our HIV positive son came to be in our family. For me the HIV factor was never an issue. I guess I had paid enough attention in health class to know that the risk factor was extremely low in cases of day to day living. We came to know our future son through a local family who was likewise in the ministry and had adopted a little girl who was his best friend in China. When they returned home from China they began to advocate for this boy, our son.

This was about the same time that God began to re-introduce the idea of our family adopting. My wife (a Facebook fanatic) was perusing the social media outlet and began seeing these pictures of this sweet boy. We decided to reach out to this family who had faithfully advocated his cause.

It was through this meeting that we learned of his HIV status. Again even after discovering this little inconvenient truth I must admit that I was not bothered in the least about cross contamination or the social stigma that may follow our family forevermore. We left that day and both my wife and I agreed that this was the little boy who God had intended for us.

One year later my wife and I were sitting on the back end of a feverish fundraising campaign where we literally watched as God began to move mountains for our boy and for us, his forever family. Yet we were also sitting on the front end of what I presumed would be a two week journey to a foreign land… a trip I no doubt could do with my eyes closed. As it turns out this trip would be anything but normal, neither would it last only two weeks. And I would indeed spend a great deal of it with my eyes closed, as would our son.

You see during the second week of our trip while going through the necessary medical check-ups required by the USCIS, our son tested positive for TB. To complicate matters even more, because he had apparently had it before, compounded by his HIV status, the CDC in Atlanta was afraid that he may have actually had a type of TB known as MDR (Multi-Drug Resistant). Neither my wife nor I knew what this meant for us. But we would soon find out.

My wife and I stared at each other in disbelief as we learned that one of us was going to be required to stay in China with our boy for an unknown amount of time. We would have to wait for a travel waiver granted by the CDC. While that sounds so simple, I am here to say that the process was grueling. I watched as my wife and daughter got in a van and headed to the airport. The fact that no one could tell me when I would see them again made matters even worse; my heart sank. I walked back to the room with our son and slipped into the bedroom where I wept… alone.

I cried out to God for answers as to why this was happening to us. We had done everything right, we prayed about this adoption, we prepared for this adoption, we were assured of this adoption, only now to have the whole process disrupted and thrown into jeopardy because of a possibility that my son could have TB. It just didn’t make any sense. What was God trying to teach me?

In the end I would discover the answer to this question, but it would come from some very hard lessons that I needed to learn. This is the thing, if a father is to represent Christ on this earth, he must represent Him well and in truth. The truth – that I always knew intellectually but maybe not experientially – was that God would never leave us nor forsake us.

After exhausting all my vacation and being the primary breadwinner I was forced to consider my next steps as we waited impatiently for the waiver.

After two additional weeks of waiting I could stand it no longer and I began making preparations to have my son placed back into the orphanage until the situation had changed. I needed to go back to work, I had bills to pay, a family to feed. Surely God understands this, and surely as you read this you too can understand my dilemma.

Unfortunately my son did not understand…

”How could a father travel halfway around the world to get his son, only to leave him where he was found?”

I sat down to tell my son about the possibility that he may have to return to his orphanage or at the very least stay with a foster family until I could return to get him.

At first he said nothing and showed no emotion about the matter at all, in fact for the last four weeks I had not seen any sign of emotion from him. However when the interpreter left and it was only the two of us, alone, he climbed into my lap with his head on my shoulder and he sobbed. And so did I.

It was at this point that God began asking me the question that will forever resonate in my mind:

“How can you teach him about my faithfulness if you act in this momentary affliction unfaithfully?”

All of God’s promises began to flood my mind and my soul was filled with faith. I called our agency and let them know that I was not leaving my son… I just couldn’t do it. At some point it stopped being about me and became about God and the testimony I was leaving for my son about this God.

Needless to say, we prayed, and we prayed hard. The two of us on our knees and crying out to God for mercy. The next day we got our waiver and soon we would be on our way home.

We both learned something from this experience….

God is faithful.
God hears our prayers.

Had I left him there I would have foiled the greatest teaching opportunity I may have ever had when it comes to my children. I thank God for the strength He gave me to stay, as only God can receive the glory for what happened in China a little over two years ago.


As for the HIV, it is a thing… but that’s all it is, a thing. We rarely if ever think about it. Our son has perhaps the greatest doctor in these parts and his virus is undetectable as a result of the wonderful medical care he has received.

There is of course a shadow that is cast over him as a result of the HIV status, but one must always remember that the shadow is not the real thing; it is a fake representation of that which is real.

On a side note… our son never had TB, it was a false positive.

– guest post by an anonymous baba; image by Emily Adcox

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 to learn and implement American Sign Language in our daily lives.

In case you’re not already familiar, please note that the phrase “sign language” is a general term which can refer to any number of various forms of manual communication. American Sign Language (ASL) is a true language, complete with it’s own set of rules and guidelines. ASL is a conceptual language and does not parallel, or correlate to, spoken or written English. While ASL is the goal in our home, for the benefit of the reader, I will typically use the more general term, “sign language”.

People who watch us sign with one another will typically ask, “How did you learn to sign?” My usual answer is that we are still learning. I often say that the more I learn, the more I realize I still have left to learn. We strive to use ASL; sometimes we rock at doing so and other times, well, not so much. It’s a process that, for us, has evolved over several years.

So…. how did we get from Point A (a family who knew some basic signs) to Point B (a family for whom signing has become second nature)? Let me begin by saying that there is a vast array of options for families desiring to become fluent in signing and numerous scenarios for educating those who are deaf, as well. Our story is just that…. ours. It’s what has worked for us. We are sharing our experience, knowing that no two families have quite the same needs, and with the knowledge that this journey will look different for everyone.

When Ava was adopted at age 4, she had no formal language system and rarely engaged with others in her environment. Her only forms of communication were pointing or leading us to a desired object. She had no way of expressing her wants, needs, or emotions. Imagine having no way of giving meaning to the objects in your environment, your thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Imagine not even knowing you had a name! That was our starting point.

Introducing sign language changed all of that – and more – for Ava. For the first time, her world had meaning. Objects and people had names and she could use those names to draw attention, express her needs and desires, and form novel ideas. Ava was no longer living with an apathetic mindset; she now realized she had a purpose and power to control her environment. She began to come into her own.


When cochlear implantation was no longer a possibility, we realized that Ava’s best option for language and communication would be American Sign Language. As part of my education, I’d been required to take two courses in Manual Communication, so I already had some basic knowledge of ASL; however, we needed to find a way to educate ourselves and others who would interact with Ava on a regular basis. We were fortunate to be able to hire an instructor to teach a small group in our home. For a year, our extended family, sitter, and church staff/volunteers, met in our home on Saturday afternoons for ASL lessons. That experience was invaluable as it allowed us the opportunity acquire vocabulary and practice our developing skills with one another.

In the midst of this new endeavor, we adopted two more children, both age 4 at the time. Our son’s hearing is within normal limits, our daughter has unilateral microtia/atresia, resulting in a moderate-severe conductive hearing loss. With the use of a bone-conduction hearing aid, she hears within normal limits. I mention this, specifically, because I want to share how using sign language with them, as hearing individuals, impacted their transition into a family, as well as their development.

First and foremost, we were able to bypass most of the frustration that occurs when parents and children don’t speak the same language. Will and Sophie caught on quickly as we signed to support our spoken English. If they didn’t understand what was said, they certainly understood what was signed to them.

They began to sign their own wants and needs almost simultaneously. We were able to meet those needs much more consistently than I’d anticipated and, as a result, they felt secure and cared for. Sign language helped foster trust, thus aiding the attachment process.

Additionally, signing facilitated their acquisition of spoken English. It helped to cement vocabulary in their minds and was available to them when they had difficulty remembering an English word. Truly, they attained English speaking skills so rapidly that many adults assumed they’d learned a fair amount of English while living in China. In a short time, the two modes of communication seemed to merge and today, at age 8, both are fluent in English and sign language.

As they have matured, we’ve focused on teaching them to “turn off their voices” so that they can better communicate in American Sign Language. Sophie, especially, can hold her own in a signed conversation and has recently begun discussing what types of careers would allow her to use her knowledge of sign language.

With the addition of siblings, Ava began to blossom. For the first time, she had peers who could communicate with her. As a result, Ava began to look to them as models of appropriate social and developmental skills. She demonstrated an attitude of “if they can do it, so can I!”

Having said that, the real tipping point occurred when, a year and a half after adopting Will and Sophie, we welcomed Claire into the family. Adopted at age 7 1/2, profoundly deaf and, like Ava, having no formal language system, Claire was a force to be reckoned with. Although she has more hearing ability than Ava, Claire is also not verbal. She arrived, a master of gestures and facial expressions, and brought with her an insatiable desire to learn. The rate at which she acquired both receptive and expressive signing skills was mind-boggling!


Claire is 6 months younger than Ava; however, she put on the mantle of “First Born” almost immediately. From day 1, she demanded that Ava communicate with her. Although Ava interacted with Will and Sophie, she continued to prefer solitary activities. Claire would have none of that!

For Ava, having a sibling “like her” was an impetus to – finally – truly engage in the world around her. The parts of her heart that she’d kept so closed off began to open. She gained a confidence in herself that we’d never seen before. Claire’s desire to communicate, along with her natural leadership skills, somehow bridged the gap between older and younger siblings – between deaf and hearing children.

Another unforeseen result of adopting Claire is that, as parents, our signing skills have improved. She’s eager to learn, meaning we must be equipped to teach – which brings me to the topic of education.

For many reasons, when we began to consider educational options for Ava, homeschooling was an obvious choice. Since then, we have continued to homeschool all four children. While I have a background in education, I knew homeschooling a deaf child would mean we’d need to call in additional resources. I met with educators who taught ASL, educators who were certified to teach deaf learners, and persons who were certified ASL interpreters. I sought their guidance as I formulated an educational plan for our daughter. Each of these people offered a unique perspective and supplied us with a wealth of knowledge. Several persons have continued to provide us with much support over the years; for that, I am truly grateful.

If I’ve learned anything as a result of educating our deaf daughters, it’s that flexibility is key. Just as with homeschooling hearing children yet, perhaps more so, there is a lot of trial and error.

I’ve also realized that part of my role, as teacher, is to allow each child to set her own pace for learning. Sometimes I school the girls together; sometimes one-on-one teaching is a better option so that each child can demonstrate her knowledge and receive support where it’s needed. I’ve learned not to negate the seemingly small victories; such accomplishments are stepping stones for greater achievements.


Finally, I’ve learned to trust my instincts and know my limits. When I find I can’t do it on my own, I reach out for assistance. Social media groups have been an unexpected avenue through which I’ve gleaned wisdom, insight, and innovative ideas.

Currently, homeschooling remains a good learning environment for our daughters; however, we are considering a move so that our daughters can perhaps take advantage of what a school for the deaf could provide them.

In the meantime, we continue to access other resources to meet the educational needs of our children. Over the past several years, we’ve employed the services of tutors to support Ava and Claire’s learning. Our girls have received one-on-one instruction from a certified ASL interpreter and from a teacher for the deaf to help them acquire knowledge in American Sign Language and written English. They have also been a great support for myself as I navigate acquiring for knowledge and schooling the girls in various subjects.

Additionally, we’ve been fortunate to have my mother step in as the primary educator of our hearing children. Prior to her doing so, I was essentially teaching school in two languages and in trying to meet the needs of everyone, was coming up short. Now we’re able to better address the learning styles of each child as we school separately and when able, in conjunction with one another.

Almost 7 years after beginning our adoption journey, we continue to reap the benefits of using sign language. As we have endeavored to learn and teach a language so very different from our first language, we have learned to persevere. We’ve encountered setbacks and obstacles along this course, but have refused to give up. Through signing, we’ve gained a perspective of acceptance and compassion for others.

Communicating via sign language is something that many consider so very “different”; however, that difference is our norm. I believe that has gone a long way in enabling us to see beyond others’ differences and to see people for who they are.

Finally, sign language has played a role in unifying us as a family and is an integral component of our lives. Signing has become more than just something we do; it’s part of who we are.


Whether your hope is to teach your child a few basic signs to foster better communication and facilitate spoken English or if, like us, you are diving into learning American Sign Language so that you and your child can communicate with each other, I hope our story can encourage you.

The road isn’t always easy but with faith and determination, along with a willingness to learn from others, it can be done.

Step forward, give Him your “yes”… and trust that His plan is good.

– guest post by Vicki: email || facebook

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

Q & A with the Four Agencies in the FSL Program

August 19, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


With the new Former Shared List (FSL) program unrolled, many people within the Chinese adoption community have questions about what it means for future placements. Over the last three weeks, we’ve looked at these changes from a few different perspectives. First we interviewed Martha Osborne, the founder of RainbowKids, the advocacy site which will host …Read More

Kings and Queens

August 18, 2016 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments


“Maybe we are here to love wildly, passionately, and fearlessly,” whispered the heart. “You’re going to get us killed!” yelled the brain. This can be true for just about anything we find ourselves on the brink of but this particular quote, I believe, can be applied specifically to those taking the leap into the world …Read More

How HIV Changed My Life – For the Better

August 17, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments


“Why would you want a child with HIV?” asked an employee from our daughter’s foster home. The question took me off guard. After all, she lived with and cared for people with HIV. Without skipping a beat, my husband spoke up, “Because she’s our daughter.” Three simple words. She’s our daughter. Words that echoed in …Read More

Waiting to be Chosen: Brett and Samuel

August 16, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Meet fun-loving Brett. Brett is an adorable and energetic 10-year-old who was hosted via Madison Adoption Associate’s IL/MO hosting program in June and July. From Brett’s host mom: Since Brett has been with us, he has blossomed with big smiles and a cheerful attitude. He loves to play and sing in Chinese with our three …Read More

Our Journey with Reactive Attachment Disorder

August 15, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments


I have written this post countless times in my head and on the computer, each time it’s a completely different post. At first I wondered how a post on the same topic could be so different from one day to the next and then I remembered, it’s because RAD kids are different each day… at …Read More

A Gift You Can’t Prepare For: Adopting a Child with CP

August 14, 2016 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments


“You weren’t trained for this, but you were born for it.” I keep reading these words sent to me by a dear friend the other day. She knew I was struggling with parenting our three year old son, home since January, while also trying to meet the needs of our three biological children ages four, …Read More

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