Partly because I knew premature babies were at risk of speech delays and partly because it promised a free cup of tea and biscuit, Wriggles and I have been signing since she was a little over a year old. We diligently attended classes, signed at home, watched Mr Tumble and clapped graciously every time one of her younger peers learnt a new sign. Then, suddenly at 18 months she became quite keen on gesticulating wildly. Except it wasn't just a random movement, it looked quite calculated. It took a few days to work out a fairly reliable context that kept cropping up next to the hand waving, but it soon looked quite obvious she was signing "all gone" to me. This came to be applied to many situation: all gone, I've dropped it, oh dear, go away, that hurts STOP IT (to doctors), no more, finished, I'm fed up....
On we plodded with our first sign very proudly. Just as well, because it was months before there were any further signs of attempted communication. Very slowly, it began to emerge Wriggles was building up some level of understanding and when people would come for tea and begin to talk about leaving, she would eagerly start waving like a mad thing. Then suddenly there was an explosion of signs, and we now have a vocabulary of about 30 signs. Compared to some children, this is little, but for us it is huge. It gives us another tool of communication beyond whining and guesswork and Wriggles treats it as a game, making her far more likely to pick it up. Crucially it has demonstrated that her level of understanding is far superior to what she lets on. It has been a long time coming, her showing any response to language, signed or spoken. I remember being quite concerned last Christmas when she has just turned 1 corrected, as beyond recognising her name, she seemed to show no comprehension at all of language. She was quite visual and understood basic routine through sights and familiarity and her hearing seemed fine. Her ears would prick up at every noise, but words? You may as well have not bothered.
And then, this past week she has become very keen on signing "star" a lot to me. She has been signing it for a while in context, but suddenly there are stars everywhere. In books, in songs, on patterned clothes... Of course, it's not that there are genuinely more stars in the world, the difference now is that she understands and has had a burst of excitement because she knows I understand her back. It's suddenly a two-way thing. And most importantly, she has a word to go with it.
At first I thought it was a cute coincidence that her gibbering was copying the inflection of the word she was signing. Then, as she did it again and again and again I began to dare to hope; was this fledgling speech? Today, not for the first time, I found her sat with a book jabbing at pictures of big yellow stars shouting "DAAAR! DAAARRRR!! DAAAAARRRR!" and when asked, she will happily screech "DAAAAAAR!" in reply.
Unless she wants a rendition of 'Twinkle, Twinkle', she saves her new word for it's context. Which of course crops of frequently-both she and I are so proud of her that I make sure there are lots of stars everywhere for her to be able to show me what they are!
Just shy of 2 years old our first word. Not bad going, preemie. Not bad at all.