Sign Language and Adoption: The Gift of Communication

August 23, 2016 attachment activities, August 2016 Feature - SIgn Language and Adoption, Developmental System, Down syndrome, prepping for China, sign language, speech delay, waiting to travel 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 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

One response to “Sign Language and Adoption: The Gift of Communication”

  1. Catherine says:

    This is excellent!! I borrowed the ‘Baby Signing Time’ DVDs from our local library and they were invaluable! At one point she had over 80 signs to communicate and we were both more relaxed and could bond better because she could communicate her needs to me. I highly recommend Rachel Coleman’s Signing Time and Baby Signing Time resources!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 No Hands But Ours

The content found on the No Hands But Ours website is not approved, endorsed, curated or edited by medical professionals. Consult a doctor with expertise in the special needs of interest to you.