Blog Post #4: A Young Child with a 2 “Word” Vocabulary

Here is the story of how our youngest son came into our lives with a vocabulary of 2 words.  

Our youngest son spent the first 3 years and 11 months of his life in an orphanage in Bucharest, Romania. He was the only deaf baby among 500 children in the orphanage. The care-givers gave the children including him all the love they could (I spent 3 weeks visiting him every day and observing the children and caretakers), but taking care of those many children meant they didn’t have time to teach a deaf baby any words.

So when he came into our lives, at almost 4 years old, he had a “vocabulary” of exactly 2 “words”:  (1) point and (2) scream.  

The typical 4 year old child will have a vocabulary of 1,500 to 1,600 words (

Our son pointed and screamed.  You could hear the frustration in his voice.  

At that time we knew our son had more going on than just being deaf but we didn’t know what. For example, he refused to make eye contact. Which made me think of autism.  But on the other hand, he was very affectionate. I dismissed autism because I didn’t know autistic people could be affectionate.  Another behavior was he required physical stimulation.  For example, when he went to bed, he would rock himself very hard, back and forth.

I learned when I felt like kissing him, I had to kiss the top of his head where his hair was, because if my lips came into contact with his skin it made him shudder with dislike.

He was so affectionate from the very first time we met him.  His fierce hugs stole our hearts. When he showed us affection, he would give us hugs, smiles, and “head bumps”.  He would bump the top of his head on our face or chin, sometimes quite strongly.  We let him do this, but taught him to be gentle.  

A few years later he was finally diagnosed with both ADD and being on the autism spectrum. (I learned autistic folks could be affectionate!)  Wow, our son was dealing with the multiple challenges of being deaf, being on the spectrum, ADD and living in a new home with a new family. That’s a lot for a 4 year old! No wonder he screamed and had meltdowns frequently!

So we began the task of helping him to learn to communicate. We tried to patiently sign or cue everything we said to him, and everything we said in front of him. But with no eye-contact and his refusal to look at us, it was extra hard to teach our son words.  We just kept at it, and continuously encouraged him. We read books with him. We made sure he was around teachers and friends who signed or cued to him. 

He eventually began to absorb at least some of the visual language we were using, and slowly but surely began using a few words.

Today, as an adult, he does okay with communication — in person with ASL, and reading and writing — although he has his own communication style. He gives good eye-contact when he is talking with someone. Comprehension of text is still frequently challenging for him.  For example, if he wants to lookup an answer on Google, he is very skilled at finding the article that gives the answer (for example, how much longer will Disney World be closed during this pandemic?), but then he asks me to read that article to him and for details of what it says.  

So despite a rough early beginning with communication, and still some challenges, he is now a successful young man!

Here are the links to my signing and cueing YouTube “Word Of The Day” channels. I post a new word every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Check it out and I would love to know what you think of them!

YouTube ASL Word Of The Day with PSE Sentence Examples:

YouTube Cued Speech Word Of The Day:

Also, Check out my Adventure Games in the App Stores:

Please join me next Friday for my next blog post!  Have fun with your ASL Adventures, and / or  your Cued Speech Adventures!

Published by Donna Gateley

Developer of SignCueQuest and CueQuest

3 thoughts on “Blog Post #4: A Young Child with a 2 “Word” Vocabulary

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