Sign Language Changed My Relationship With My Son

As a “modern” mom, I taught my children sign language so they could communicate with me before they were able to talk.

But I had no idea just one little sign would change my whole world.

My first son, Vman, has never been a hugger or cuddly. Actually, he’s anything but.

Vman was born with Sensory Processing Disorder, which includes an aversion to anything tactile like touching.

As a baby, all I wanted to do was snuggle up with him and coo all over him.

He wasn’t having any of it and screamed bloody murder to let me know.

When other children were crawling into their mother’s laps, Vman was sitting at a safe distance… on the other side of the couch. Touching was just too much for him.

And while snuggling up may feel wonderful for most of us, it made his skin crawl.

He didn’t hug, kiss or really show any affection at all.

As a mom, it was horrible.

Kids are tough enough but to have a child who can’t show any affection back just broke my heart.

Sign Language Changed My Relationship With My Son | Mommy Evolution
Me and Vman… one of the first times he ever cuddled up with me

A friend of mine caught one of the very first times Vman came to sit next to me.

We were at a gathering and he plopped right down next to me.

I was terrified to move… like I would jinx the moment.

As Vman got older, I began to accept the fact that he would never even be able to give me a kiss or hug good night.

And long after he began talking, I accepted the fact that I would never hear him say, “I love you.”

After three years of occupational therapy, Vman learned how to tolerate the random side hug from me.

Once in a while he would let me scratch his back and cuddle up with me.

And sometimes in a tender moment he would even let me gently tussle his hair. But that was about it.

Then Valentine’s Day came and his first grade teacher taught the class how to sign “I love you” and sent a print-out home.

Sign Language Changed My Relationship With My Son | Mommy Evolution

I remember clearly the day he brought the print-out home.

“Hey, Mom. Look what I brought in my backpack today,” he sheepishly said as he pulled out the paper.

Then he flashed me his dazzling smile and showed me how to arrange my fingers to do the sign. “Cool,” I thought.

The next day while at gymnastics, Vman looked up at the stands where I was sitting and flashed me the sign again with that dazzling smile.

I almost started crying right there and then.

For the first time ever, he was actually telling me that he loved me.

For the next couple of weeks, Vman kept flashing me this sign as well as his smile.

He had finally unlocked the one thing he couldn’t figure out before — how to share his feelings in a way that was comfortable for him.

Before I knew it, I was getting hugs at night and “I love you” signs when I dropped him off at school in the morning.

He’s even developed a way to share a kiss.

We kiss the palm of our hands and then press our palms together. It has completely changed the way the two of us are connecting.

Of all the signs I taught my boys when they were young, for some reason, it never occurred to me to teach them the sign for “I love you.”

I taught them how to ask for juice, more, ball and all of the things a child could want.

I could almost kick myself in the pants for not teaching this sign earlier.

However, I also feel like Vman was ready to start expressing himself and learning this sign came just at the right time.

UPDATE: After half a year later, my son actually uttered the words “I love you” one night when I was putting him to bed. It was quite shocking to actually hear those words.

After that, about once a week he would say those wonderful words.

One night I told him how awesome it made me feel to hear those words.

He replied that every time he gives me the sign, he thinks those words in his head.

Interesting that even though he wasn’t saying it out loud, his heart was saying it anyway.

Like this post about sensory and sign language? Read more about Sensory Processing Disorder on Mommy Evolution!

Learn more about sensory challenges or to join our inclusive community on The Sensory Spectrum.

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    1. Precious! My 18yo daughter with moderate cerebral palsy cannot speak (although she has normal hearing). So, we’ve used sign language since she was about 18 months old. She’s not fairly fluent (although her signs are lefties since her right hand is so impaired and the signs are “muddled” from her CP). I do the sign language at my church and it’s just a part of who I am and who me and my daughter are together. I think knowing a little sign language is something everyone can use! Thanks for sharing your love for it, too!

      1. Absolutely glad to share! And even though my kids talk now, I’ll still find myself using sign language to underscore what I’m saying. 🙂

    2. My son has SPD too, although he’s a seeker instead of an avoider. Sign language has saved us. He had a speech delay and would get so frustrated and hurt himself because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. He has done so much better since we started signing.

    3. I read this and I couldn’t stop crying. I can imagine your son giving you the sign across the room and how you must feel. My is doesn’t have SPS, and we only sign sometimes, but I still know how it feels for them to grow up in their own way. My son is only 15 months old, but he has taught me much more than I could have imagined.

    4. Jennifer,

      Your post is inspiring and your relationship with your son and incorporating sign language is admirable. I’m so very happy for you and for your recognition of this beautiful language. I’m a high school ASL teacher and I am very passionate about sign language, specifically the incorporation of music with sign language. Many of my students find therapy in signing and fill their already busy days to include as much of ASL as possible. The handshape you’re speaking of is commonly referred to as the ILY handshape. I am including a link to a song called the Rhythm of Love that I interpreted into ASL. I hope you and your son can enjoy watching it together.

      Dano Kaufmann
      ASL Teacher

    5. We had the intention of teaching our kids sign language. We were able to get “cookie please” down pat. Oh, and our sons had the universal sign for “gimmie” down as well and used it liberally.

      I’m going to share this sign with my teenager so I can tell him I love him when dropping him off at school and not cause what he things is an embarrassingly mushy scene.

      1. The sign is WONDERFUL for not making a scene! My son will “secretly” flash it to me as I drop him off at school. And during his winter program, I gave him the I Love You sign and no one was the wiser… but he certainly was 🙂

    6. Amazing story! I am going to have to try this & the palm kisses.
      My son is 7 with SPD & Aspergers. He is just the same, has never enjoyed affection even as a baby. We always say we love him, but rarely hear it back. We don’t force the hug or kiss issue but you can see the pain & terror on his face when someone tries. This story had me in tears..
      I always joke with my husband about our little jack Russell dog. He is overly affectionate with just me. I said God must have know I would need extra since I don’t get them with my boy..

      1. My second son is so hyper affectionate… he was definitely sent to me with a purpose!

        Do try the sign language. I was shocked shocked shocked that my son just didn’t know how to comfortably share how he was feeling or how to express it. We still do the palm kisses…. but not as often any more because now I get a REAL HUG at night. No kisses but I’ll take the hugs any day. (It did take a long time to get here, but it happened!)

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