Hand jive

Amy Cocanour

Photo By David Robert

Ever wonder just what was going on when your baby rolled his or her eyes after a meal of mashed bananas? Did you wish you had a more certain method of communication? Well, here’s your opportunity. Babies can learn a few words of sign language long before they develop sophisticated verbal skills, says mother of two, Amy Cocanour. To put her hands where her mouth is, Cocanour, 30, will teach a course at Truckee Meadows Community College called “Talk to the Hand: Signs to Use with Infants and Children,” Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 at TMCC’s Dandini Campus.

How did you get involved in children using signs?

I’m a speech-language pathologist, and when I graduated from college, I’d had a couple of semesters of American Sign Language classes. When I went to the district, they needed somebody who could work with the hearing-impaired children in the pre-school classrooms. I got thrown in there with just a couple semesters of sign. The teachers and the sign-language interpreters helped me to learn more of the signs they used in the school district, which are more Signed Exact English or SEE signs, instead of American Sign Language signs. So I used them when I was working in the school district. When I had my first child, I started using signs with him, and by the time he was about 8 months old, he already had four signs.

How many words does a typical 8-month-old speak?

At 8 months old, you’re not usually getting a lot of understandable vocalizations from a child. This was a way that we could communicate, and I could understand his needs better. When I had my second child, I started doing it again, and I had some in-care providers approach me and ask me if I could teach them the signs, so they could use it in their classroom. I started teaching these childcare-provider classes to get their CEUs [continuing education units], so that they could continue to stay licensed childcare providers. Somehow, Truckee Meadows Community College heard about this, and they wanted to offer a “Signs and gestures for babies” class, and they contacted me. One of the important things to remember about this course is that it’s not based on American Sign Language, so I’m not teaching sign language. I’m teaching signs and gestures that you can teach your child, so that they can communicate with you.

Tell me one sign.

A very common sign that children just love is “more.” They put their little hands in two flat O’s and put them together and that means more.

Your first child had four signs when he was 8 months old. How many did your second child have?

He had pretty much the same development as my first child. He had three when he was 6 months, four when he was 8 months. They’ve really learned a lot of good signs to help them out. I think they probably had about a hundred signs by the time they could really communicate with me when they were a year and a half.

What books do you recommend?

There are actually some Web sites that I’d recommend. One is www.babyhandsproductions.com. Another one is www.handspeak.com. If you go down to the library and find some sign language videos for people to check out, you don’t need to buy the books.