The Benefits of Sign Language for Stroke Patients

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As a stay at home mother of 3, I am constantly looking for ways to expand the minds of my children, teaching them as much as i can.  When my son was born a couple years ago, i heard about infant sign language and thought it was a great idea and immediately began to sign to him.  It helped that i already knew sign language myself, but throughout my pregnancy i saw many books and videos related to the subject.  So even if you as a parent don't know sign language, there are items available to open the doors for you.

WIthin months my entire family was amazed at the progress my son was making.  By the time he was 10 months old, he could sign 32 words back to me and could understand 58 words that i signed to him.  It was amazing being able to communicate with such a little person.

When my son turned a year old and i was asked what to buy for him, one of my responses was a potty chair.  Many in the family laughed and mocked me saying i was pushing him to early.  On the contrary, i didn't mention a thing to my son.  I would simply make the same sign each time i changed his diaper.  Then, one fateful day when he was 15 months old, my son signed the "potty" sign to me and when i checked him he was still dry and odorless.  I quickly ran and got his potty chair and put him on it.  Within seconds he was grinning from ear to ear with his tell tale "push face" letting me know that he was in fact utilizing his potty chair for its intended purpose.  This continued for about 2 months and finally at about 18 months old he was completely potty trained.

My mom lived close to me at the time and when i would take my son to visit my parents they were both amazed at his ability to go potty, be it "number one" or "number two".  So, when my mom and i began discussing the possibilities that perhaps my son wasn't extremely intelligent, he just had an "avenue" by which to let me know he had to go to the bathroom.  We began to speculate...  What if most children his age were capable of these same "talents" but simply didn't have the ability to express their need to go to the bathroom.

My theory was that if most children had no way of communicating with their parents to the extent my son was, then how else would they be able to let their parents know that they did infact have the ability to "hold it" and could control their bodily functions more than we give them credit for.  This got my mom, a nurse of 7 years in a rehab hospital, thinking what if the same were true of some of her own patients who for one reason or another had lost their ability to communicate.  Many people who have had strokes or brain damage are left laying in bed in diapers as most believe they have lost their ability to be continent.   What if they simply have no way to let someone know that they have to "go".  What if it became standard procedure to show patients who have lost their ability to talk, write or otherwise verbally communicate, how to sign what they may need.

The results were staggering, my mom began to try her method on a few of her patients and their families that showed an interest in her idea.  Within weeks of signing to the patients and teaching their families how to recognize these signs, 4 out of 7 of her patients that volunteered were able to function without the use of diapers.  Even though, none of them could write, speak, or otherwise tell you what they wanted previously, they now had an avenue through which they were able to again convey their own wants and desires.  They still didn't have use of their limbs, some of them were still for all intents and purpose "vegetables", but amazingly, when given the simple tool of making hand gestures, the world opened back up to them, if only for that brief moment when they were able to sign a request.

I have since made it my goal to inform everyone i know that if you or someone you know has an infant, or a person who has been rendered incontinent due to a brain injury, stroke or other dibilitating medical issue, give sign language a try, it may open the world back up to them, and their minds back up to you.

1 comment

Mark Cruz
Posted on Mar 12, 2012