As a teen, Patrice Courtemanche became fascinated with sign language and knew then she wanted to teach it to a child of her own someday. Twenty years later her ten-month-old daughter spontaneously reminded her it was time for ‘milk’ by signing for the first time, and now mom and three-year-old Jordin sing songs while signing the lyrics together, bonded by intimate eye contact
Baby Sign Language A Career Switch
ASL uses hand signs, facial expressions and physical postures to convey language. Though Jordin can hear, Courtemanche began teaching her daughter American Sign Language (ASL) while still an infant and found the process so rewarding that she put aside her career as a graphic artist to start Tiny Hand Signs, a business through which she hopes to pass on her passion for signing.
“I want to tell everyone from the treetops,” Courtemanche said. “Being a parent is stressful and I want to help parents and kids communicate.”
Though she has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Massachusetts, Courtemanche said there are so many graphic artists and so few jobs available that the time was right to change careers. She employed her artistic talents by creating her Tiny Hand Signs logo, using images of Jordin’s hands signing ‘Love, ASL.’
Sign Language – History and Statistics
Baby sign language classes and online courses have proliferated in the past decade with the promise of improving children’s vocabularies and elevating their IQs, though the studies are still being conducted. However, the first six months of a child’s life are essential to development of language skills, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Scientists speculate that hand signing may have been the earliest form of complex human communication before our primitive ancestors developed the modern vocal tract that facilitated speech. Similarly, today’s babies’ hand coordination develops months before the mouth and brain are ready to form words, so theoretically signing babies are more likely to get their basic needs met without melting down.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-11 Edition estimates demand for American Sign Language interpreters will grow much faster than average job growth with an increase of 22% through 2018, and there is no shortage of deaf or hard of hearing Americans. NIDCD reports indicated approximately 28 million in the U.S. alone have a hearing impairment, with 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 U.S. children born hard-of-hearing or deaf. ASL is reported to be the third most commonly used language in the United States behind English and Spanish.
Other Benefits of ASL
Courtemanche chose to become a certified instructor through Baby Signing Time and teaches classes in Palm Beach Gardens and Tequesta, Florida. She said there are benefits to learning to sign in a classroom over the many online classes available.
“You get the chance to be around other parents with kids in the same age range, and to ask questions in a classroom setting,” Courtemanche said. “New parents can feel isolated at home. Not interacting with your child when on the computer can reduce the fun and bonding aspects of learning to sign.”
Armed with signing skills, Courtemanche hopes Jordin will reap the benefits in the future by helping others learn as well as by expanding her understanding of the world.
“My goal for Jordin and for me is to continue to learn ASL as a second language and also so she can use it for community service in high school,” Courtemanche said. “I also think it will broaden her awareness of the differences in people and cultures.”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Npr.org, Signing, Singing, Speaking: How Language Evolved by Jon Hamilton
Tiny Hand Signs