Prior to giving birth to my son Cooper, who has profound hearing loss, I only knew a few basic signs.

At one point I’d known the alphabet, but even that was long gone by the time Cooper came along. I decided to teach my deaf baby sign language.

Upon being told our baby was deaf, one of the first thoughts I had was that I barely knew any sign language. I felt panicky as if I’d been hit with a diagnosis and daunting task all at once. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to communicate with my baby or be able to give him the tools to communicate. Though we ultimately decided to go the cochlear implant route for Cooper, we are still learning and using sign language as much as we can. 

If I’m being honest, trying to learn sign language alone and online has been frustrating and discouraging. I often feel as if I don’t know nearly enough, or like I’m not doing enough to bring Cooper’s natural language to him. But in those moments, I have to remind myself that what I know now is much more than I knew six months ago. 

Here are a few of the things I’ve found helpful about teaching my deaf baby (and myself) sign language along the way. 

Start basic signs early 

For us, this meant introducing certain baby signs, like milk and bath, and sleep. As a beginner to sign language, these are easy to learn and remember. We started these with Cooper when he was just a few months old. One of my biggest worries with signing was that I would forget to do it, simply because it’s new to me too. So I found that only having three or so activities associated with a sign made it feel more manageable early on. At seven months old, Cooper is recognizing certain signs. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that recognition in his actions. He hasn’t signed back yet, at least not that we’ve recognized. I have no doubt that he is on track to do so.