Adoption is a roller coaster.
And meeting and spending those first few day getting to know your child can be one of the most wonderful times of your life.
It can also be pretty tough.
One of the issues we’ve encountered with almost all of our adoptions is difficultly in the department of communication. Obviously, when you adopt from China, your new child speaks and understands a completely different language. And even if your child isn’t verbal yet, they definitely have wants and needs. And a need to express those wants and needs. So, regardless of your new child’s age, communication is certain to be an issue.
One thing that has been a huge help to us as we have navigated those days, weeks and sometimes months of not quite understanding each other is ASL. American Sign Language. We learned about ASL and it’s benefits as we were seeking out answers for speech issues with our oldest biological son, over ten years ago. We were intrigued and so invested some time and a few dollars in this book
And we were not disappointed. The signs were easy to learn, logical and easy to remember and use. And they covered basics: “mama”, “daddy”, “more”, “eat”, “drink”, “bottle”, “bath”, “play”, “boo boo”, “outside”, and the very necessary “no no”.
When we traveled to adopt our daughter Isabelle, we used these same words we had learned to use with our son years before. And although she was only 11 months at adoption, it didn’t take her long to catch on to a few signs and begin signing herself. Some of her first “words” were the signs: “more” and “mama”. And yes, it is definitely just as sweet seeing a first word as it is hearing it.
Eventually we purchased some signing flash cards that had additional words for her to learn, and she enjoyed looking at and playing with the cards as much as she did learning the new words.
In fact, all her older siblings enjoyed learning the new signs as well. Learning to sign a few basic words was more fun and functional that any of us could have imagined.
Now, as we navigate the weeks and months of being home with our new daughter Vivienne, we find ourselves depending on these signs again to ease the lumps and bumps of communication breakdown. Two at adoption, she has a wonderful grasp of Chinese and even though we’ve been home a month, she isn’t about to let go of her native tongue.
So signing has been a blessed compromise and although Vivienne has yet to spontaneously sign to us, she does love to imitate us when we sign to her. Teaching her to sign “please” was one of the first things she and I worked on in China, for our family this particular sign has been a lifesaver over the years. If Vivienne wanted something, but couldn’t stop crying over it, I’d insist she at least try to sign it (“please” is a circular motion on the chest) and, in order to sign, she’d have to stop crying. Sort of like chewing gum and patting your head at the same time, you can do it, it’s just not very easy. So just like that, our impasse was resolved. She’d stop crying and ask nicely (if even by just making an attempt to imitate the sign) and I would be able to give her what she wanted. Not necessarily rocket science, but it sure has helped us keep our sanity on numerous occasions.
I hope this might be helpful to someone preparing to travel to China for their little one.