Friday, September 30, 2011

"A person's a person, no matter how small." --Horton Hears a Who, Dr. Seuss.

Don't read this. Don't comment on it either. I think it's probably unpleasant and crazy and will make no sense. This is just me working out some PTSD and rage in re today's 18-month-old checkup.

As background, I should say that Kaiser has always been my American healthcare boogeyman. Somewhere I got the idea that Kaiser is better than no healthcare at all, but that they are basically trying to kill you with their negligence and cost-cutting. After yesterday (appointment for myself) and today (appointment for Jackson), I generally accept that they're perfectly good medical practicioners in the comparatively excellent American public health system. That said, it's still a scary place for me to be. I am on edge when I am at Kaiser, hedging against...everything.

Long story short, today's visit to a new pediatrician at a new medical center for Jackson's 18-month checkup wasn't a complete nightmare, but it was a couple notches below that. My family medicine doc yesterday, and the nurse, phlebotomist, receptionist, security guard and parking attendant at today's pediatrician visit were all lovely and excellent, but boy I did not like the doctor one bit.

First failure: I forgot the binky. As the day wore on for both of us, it became harder and harder to watch Jackson helplessly ask for "Niky? Niky?" while doing his little pacificer sign.

Second failure: I was on time instead of 15 minutes early as requested, so I was filling out their developmental checklist while the nurse got started with Jackson. I should have just put that goddamn form aside to help coach Jackson through the process, giving him my full attention, but I'm such a terrible people pleaser by nature I split my time between the form and being like, "Yay! Head circumference!" The form was incredibly patronizing. Overall, the biggest downside to Kaiser (and there are many upsides) is that they appear to be almost entirely focused on mitigation. I mean, I know it's a hospital and they're generally dealing with the sick, but they seem to generally operate on a wavelength that assumes damage already done, and there is no interest whatsoever on health enrichment or optimizing any given dimension of wellness, which is a disappointment. "You don't have walking pneumonia? You aren't obese? FAN-tastic. Next!"


Anyway, after height, weight, head circumference and "Do you smoke?" in the hallway, we were taken to an airless, windowless, dingy exam room where lovely Nurse Estefania gave us the above hilarious baby hospital gown and entered Jackson's immunization record into the computer. She also took Jackson's temperature using a ear thermometer, which caused Jackson to ask me, "Ear?" several times over the rest of the day. Suffice it to say he hated all the parts where he was randomly inspected by this lady he'd never met before. After Stephanie was done with the paperwork, she left us there to wait. And wait we did. Finally I couldn't take it anymore so we stood in the hallway and talked about the printer for a while. We flip the light switch on and off. On and off. We also read letters off the eye chart.

Finally, Dr. S. arrived. Maybe we threw him off because we were standing in the doorway, but he opened with, "Hey, you want a book?" as he jammed a book into Jackson's face. He didn't introduce himself, he just grunted when I introduced Jackson and myself, and then he immediately started glowering at Jackson's vaccination record, puzzling over how to match the vaccines they had available with the ones J had already gotten at our old doctor office.

We eventually settled on a solution--after I noted twice that while I love vaccines, and the polio vaccine in particular since my great-aunt Priscilla was paralyzed from the waist down by polio, I would prefer that my kid not get an extra polio shot--but I got the feeling that we were making his life hard.

He continues studying the immunization record from our old doctor's office. He sees the name of our old doctor. Let's call our previous pediatrician Marcus Welby, M.D., because he is totally as old as that reference.

Dr. S, bitchily: "Wow, Dr. Marcus Welby is still practicing?"
Me: "Yep."
Dr. S, bitchily: "How old is he?"
Me: "We spend a lot of time debating exactly how old he is. He was my pediatrician when I was little."
Dr. S, talking to himself: "He must be like 70."

I already knew Dr. S was awkward and weird, and that he had evidenced no interest whatsoever in either my child, my child's health, me or any other human, but at this point I realized he doesn't listen alertly either. This dude was just not sympathetic, chatty, fuzzy, funny, curious or distinctly smart. We weren't having a conversation. He was saying stuff and leaving pauses where we could pretend something I said mattered. I am a helicopter parent, I am overanxious, I talk too much, and yes, the baby is fine and doesn't need any bonus mama hysteria, but I am also just trying to make a connection, man.

I wore earrings and mascara in honor of today's special occasion, First Appointment with the New Doctor.

My child is wearing a COLLARED SHIRT.

Work with me here. Give me something. Anything.

Keep in mind that up to now, he hasn't made the slightest effort to engage the curious, alert, anxious toddler on my lap. Dr. S has just been futzing around on the computer and avoiding eye contact.

"I want to redo this length measurement."

Uh, OK. So I wrestle Jackson onto the table. Jackson doesn't like it. Big scary weird doctor starts looming over the little guy, using a measuring tape and a pen to figure out how tall he is. Jackson freaking hates it. He's wailing and whining and wiggling, and let me tell you, none of this is necessary: Jackson is one of the most reasonable, non-melodramatic children you will ever hope to meet. He does not just throw random moody temper tantrums. If he is freaking out, it's because he's in distress. Given 30 seconds and a little charm, he would have lain (laid?) down of his own accord and stayed stock still for the duration. But no, the lack of acknowledgment of Jackson's personhood continues, and this guy is assuming Jackson's just a typical bitchy little kid, but the fact is that Jackson has no idea who the eff you are, dude, and you're scaring him.

Dr. S, having gotten his height results, tells us: "Oh, OK, that's better. He was at the third percentile before, and now he's in the 15th percentile. That makes more sense with his weight."

Ah yes, that sounds like my short and chubby baby. The dude doesn't even bother to comment on my chubby little baby, he just continues futzing on the computer.

Upon later contemplation, I decide that the reason Dr. S redid the measurement is because if he enters "third percentile" in the computer, an alarm goes off in some Kaiser mainframe somewhere and initiates a "crisis abatement checklist" that he doesn't really want to deal with.

Then, once again, without preface or preparation, the physical exam begins. There's no introduction. There's no chit-chat. There are no questions about the baby's overall health. The guy has yet to ask if I have any concerns about my child. He just starts the poking.

Without warning, he shines a bright light in Jackson's eyes. Then the lights are off and he shines a bright light in Jackson's eyes in the dark. Jackson is understandably baffled. I am downright disconcerted. I try to narrate the goings-on for Jackson as best I can, but I can barely keep ahead of the doctor, and certainly not enough to make Jackson feel comfortable with what's happening.

Jackson: "Ear?"
Me: "Yeah baby, he's checking your ear for ear infections...oh, OK, yeah, now he wants to check your mouth, your throat."

Jackson will open his mouth any old time you ask (especially if there's some goopy half-chewed food in there), but that's not even a consideration here. Dr. S just forces the tongue depressor in and pokes around, cursorily. The guy just keeps barrelling through his lame checkup checklist. Jackson becomes increasingly agitated and distressed, but there's no opportunity to comfort him and calm him down.

Me: "Oh, OK, that's a stethescope...your heart...he wants to hear you breathe...OK, yeah, he's taking off your diaper to check your belly and your legs."
Dr. S.: "Do you want a sticker?"
Jackson: Hell to the no.
Dr. S., making his most astute observation of the day, and perhaps his only observation, really: "You don't want anything from me do you?...Well, here's a sticker."

ARGH! Finally it's all over. We've settled on vaccines, the doctor pushed all my short-fat-baby buttons which stresses me out, the doctor orders a blood test for anemia and lead screening, I feel incredibly uncomfortable, Jackson's climbing me like a tree and he can't get far enough away from the whole situation. (Right there with ya, kiddo.)

After the ordeal is almost all over, I ask for clarification on what's going to happen next.

Me: "OK, so the nurse will be in with the shots, and then we go to the basement for the lab work?"
Dr. S., exhibiting some enthusiasm and making eye contact for the first time all morning: "Yes! That's an East Coast/West Coast thing. On the East Coast, doctors do shots. On the West Coast, nurses do shots. I used to be in private practice on the East Coast."
Me, starring, speechless: Uh. OK. GTFO.

When the doctor finally left us alone in the exam room it was nothing less than a relief.

Nurse Stephanie brought the shots in, and immediately everything was better. For one thing, she told us, "Don't forget your new book!" Suddenly I realized that the book that Dr. S had thrown at us was not his version of a distraction technique, but a gift designed to encourage reading. WE LOVE BOOKS. As far as I'm concerned he was waving a shiny object us, to make us look away. He never said or suggest otherwise. Luckily Stephanie was there to save the day.

She showed us the labels on each of the needles and cross-checked Jackson's name and the vaccine order paperwork and what the doctor told us he was going to request, and Jackson was rapt listening to her. He also got excited to hear one of his favorite letters: "B!" (As in hepatitis B, doncha know?)

Before we got to the part where I restrained my hysterically crying baby (Jackson NEVER EVER cries hysterically) so we could plunge needles into his flesh, I stopped poor Stephanie.

Me: "OK, I'm usually not this bold, but tell me about Dr. S. This is my first time here and I need to know why I should continue seeing him. I'm very needy and sensitive, so I'm not sure he's a good match for us. This is my baby and he needs to be with someone I feel good about. I'm sorry to put you in this position, but can you tell me more about him?"

Poor nurse Stephanie knows exactly what I'm talking about but is in awkward position. She does her best.

Nurse Stephanie: "Well, he's a pediatric infectious disease specialist. That's what he does. He's very thorough. He always makes me check everything twice. He's very responsive, you can always ask him questions. Um...he's just not...um...that's just how he is. I've been with him a long time and he's like that with me too. He's just...quiet."
Me: "OK, well, what if I had a nice, normal, boring baby without any diseases. Do you think he's the best doctor here for my child?"
Nurse: "Um..."
Me: "I need someone fuzzy. Do you have anyone who's fuzzy who's taking new patients?"

Nurse Stephanie recommends a nice lady doctor who just joined the practice. We'll be going to see her next time.

On the way out, I asked a desk clerk for Lady Doctor's card. At first the clerk was confused, "Wait, did you just see her or...?" "No. I didn't just see her. I saw someone else."

The clerk immediately realized what was up and got me a card. I learned when I was laboring with Jackson that nurses and doctors are totally aware of which other nurses and doctors don't have a great bedside manner, because that failing becomes their problem all the time. You, the patient, are never penalized for rejecting another practionier. In fact, I think their colleagues secretly enjoy you validating their own dislike of a specific nurse or doctor. (Personality problems are rarely confined to a single domain, like just patients.)

After all the exam stuff was over, we took our Ernie sticker and our paperwork, went downstairs to the lab where we waited for an hour (Jackson kept saying "hot?" when I explained we had to wait, because I usually make him "wait" when the food is too "hot"), and then it was time to draw blood from Jackson's fat little baby arm. Throughout the day, the minute a doctor/nurse/tech put on gloves, Jackson knew something was up and started freaking out. The only blessing is that the very kind lab tech Raymond told me it didn't matter that I'd forgotten the binky because they spit them out at this point anyway, so it wouldn't help. I guess that's something.

After the blood draw--during which there were quite a few eternal seconds when Raymond couldn't find the dang vein--Jackson thought his "band-ah" (bandage) was awesome, and he poked at it for the next 90 seconds until he dropped into such a deep slumped-over sleep I thought he was maybe dead. He slept through both the transfer to the car and then the transfer back out of the car, and he currently curled up in a little ball in his own little crib, safe with his blanky, his binky and his own little secure world. I will make him toast and scrambled eggs when he wakes up.

I, myself, stopped at In 'N' Out on the way home in an attempt to self-medicate.

So. Next time we'll know a little more what we're in for. Jackson will know to be scared of blue latex gloves, and I will know to arrive early, and not trust the whimsy of the Kaiser doctor-assigning system. I strongly believe that any club that will have you isn't worth joining, so I knew that if a doctor had room in his patient roster to see us, there must be something wrong with him, but I like to give the system a chance. Also, I couldn't bear to spend months and years researching the Best Kaiser Doctor in West Los Angeles. I had hope that whatever we got would be good enough. That hope didn't work out, but eh. We survived. We'll do better next time.

Deep cleansing breath.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday is library day, but we mixed it up a little today by visiting the Marina del Rey branch of the County of Los Angeles Public Library instead of one of our usual LAPL branches. Adorable little library, with tiny seahorse chairs and other ocean-themed furniture in the kids section and lots of nice fresh books! A really sweet space, and a great building overall, but I think it's too cramped and full of serious grownups to be a regular stop on our library itinerary. Still, I'm a library completist, so I'm very glad we stopped by to see it.

After the library we walked the Marvin Braude Bikeway until we got to Burton Chace Park, which is a lovely 1960s relic with views of the marina. We saw pelicans, cormorants and seagulls, plus boats boats boats boats boats!

BOATS! Marina del Rey boats, as far as the eye can see. The marina sounds like windchimes, with all the boat riggings clank, clank, clanking against the masts.
Jackson drops a dried bunya bunya leaf in the Chace Park fountain.
"Mom, I think we're lost."
Those lumps on the edge of the LMU boathouse dock? Sea lions.
The view from the hill on the far end of the park, overlooking the marina
Whole Foods Market's GROW Short Film Series

I approve of Whole Foods spending my money on the production of these films. :)







Friday, September 23, 2011

Back porch rain barrel,
strapped to the wall as a babyproofing measure
Rain Barrels!

Huge thanks to awesome Ivan and Heather of the City of Culver City/Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission for installing my two new rain barrels. I love them!

The rain barrels are part of a rainwater harvesting pilot program designed to help save ecologically expensive aqueduct water, prevent polluted city runoff from entering the bay, and keep rainwater where it falls, enriching the land and recharging groundwater supplies.

I've been trying DIY rain barrels for years--there was the year I put our green bin under a downspout, and the year I put 15 five-gallon buckets under the eaves--but it's always been a kludgy mess.

These barrels are repurposed commercial barrels (they originally contained Greek green peppers!) with filters installed on top to keep out mosquitos and debris, plus overflow hoses that can port water directly another location, usually the garden or a nearby container plant. They're set up on a concrete blocks allowing room for a bucket or watering can to collect water from gravity-fed faucet near the bottom of the barrel.

We had the first barrel installed last month and I liked the first rain barrel so much I had Heather and Ivan come back today to install a second one. The first barrel sits our back porch under a gutter that just pours absolute fountains of water during any kind of rain event.

Front driveway rain barrel,
with new BFF Senorita Bougainvillea
The second sits next to our front porch, and that downspout empties onto a vast miserable expanse of concrete driveway. Until we get around to replacing the impermeable concrete with permeable pavers, thereby allowing rainwater to enter the soil, the rain barrel is good second choice for slowing the runoff from our house to the storm drains. We about three blocks from Ballona Creek, and during a winter storm our local drainage ditch becomes a raging river, sadly full of city trash. It's sad to see Ballona on the days it lives up to its full potential as a body of water, only to be brought low again by an infestation of bobbing styrofoam cups and Powerade bottles.

The front-porch barrel sits next to a bougainvillea plant (thanks to Ivan for fighting off the bougainvillea's thorns to modify the downspout and install the barrel), and I think I'm going to add a potted orange tree on the other side of the corner, in part to make best use of the new water source, and in part to block our view of the neighbors' kitchen. Hee.

View of the side yard: Fig tree,
wood pile for wildlife, five compost bins
Ivan and Heather graciously strapped down the one on the back porch as a safety measure, but I totally forgot to ask them to do something similar to the front porch one, so I'm going to hit a hardware store in the near future (before it rains and the barrel starts filling with heavy water!) and get a strap for that one as well. Toddlers will find a way to do crazy things and hurt themselves in crazy ways.

Anyway, the rainy season should begin sometime in October and I can't wait to see how it all goes! In the meantime, I'm including sexy bonus photos of my compost bins for your amusement. I fill these guys up with fall leaves, kitchen waste and lawn trimmings in the summer and fall, and then take the tops off in the winter to let the rain add the last key ingredient: moisture.

The alligator lizards live in bin three, just in case you were curious.

The end.

Thursday, September 22, 2011



Thanks to L & her beautiful boy B for showing us fantastic Airport Park at the Santa Monica Airport (when we got there the playground sand had just been raked) and then introducing us to the Santa Monica Airport Observation Deck. It's a patio with bleacher seats right on the edge of the tarmac and the kiddos can watch all the planes taking off and landing. They even pipe in audio from the control tower to make it extra authentic. Superfun day, great location and we'll definitely be going back there in the future!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stay-at-Home Mom Update


Truth be told, the weirdest part of being a SAHM is being expected to feed my husband. We've never done that before and I'm like (a) Uh, can't you just get Taco Bell or something, and (b) Wait, you want me to serve you? Now, don't get me wrong, I'm doing it (sort of), and it's fun, but it's weird. (I'm a terrible cook, a passable baker and a loving wife, so I said it's fun, I didn't say it was good...food.)

The other weird thing is that that the world is deserted after Labor Day. We did two nature walks this week, for our Fall theme, and it was just us and the birds both times. Today we went to the Ocean View Farms Community Garden off Centinela. Most of the garden is gated, but there's one section that's not, so we walked around there and had a grand old time. We saw what I believe was a peregrine falcon, Jackson had fun moving dirt from one location to the other, and I collected fallen fruit from the edge plantings for a autumn-themed centerpiece. (Pomegranate, prickly pear cactus fruit and rose hips, in case you care. No photos since my camera's SIM card is dead.) Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if the fall emptiness extends to places like the zoo or museums.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures of Jackson and some macaws, courtesy of Grandpa Jack. Grandpa and Grandma took us to this parrot sanctuary (ParrotCare.org) located in a eucalyptus grove on the VA grounds next to the UCLA baseball diamond. We never would have found it ourselves, but since macaws are apparently a thing in Jackson's life, we made it an outing and it was fabulous. The birds seemed to have more joie de vivre than the ones at the Eco Station, and the hyacinth macaws were particularly lovely. I collected some feathers off the ground and discovered that macaws can have feathers that are blue on one side and red on the other. BEAUTIFUL.



Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Jackson's first two-word phrase is TRASH TRUCK. I think I'm going to have to find him a copy of I Stink by Kate McMullan.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

GESTURAL LANGUAGE IN PRIMATES



I've been on a primate language acquisition kick, probably because the general Rise of Planet of the Apes zeitgeist, but also because of my own little primate's language development. See below for the some "gestural language" from my developing hominid, plus a vintage brainiac-gorilla documentary I found on YouTube that will have to serve as a free substitute for Rise of Planet of the Apes because I'm on a strict budget, ya'll, and my Amazon review of Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are, by Roger Fouts, the researcher who raised/taught Washoe, the world-famous chimpanzee who communicated using about 350-word vocabulary of American Sign Language signs during her 42-year lifespan.



This mostly shows Jackson not signing a ton of stuff I ask him to sign, but it does serve (for me at least) as an interesting document of his thought process at this stage, i.e. where he looks, what associations he has with certain words, what he'll do by request and what has to be in context.

KOKO: A TALKING GORILLA



Koko the Gorilla was a Really Big Deal when I was a kid. Her All Ball kitten saga was as significant a piece of "real science for children" as was teacher Christa McAuliffe's ill-fated Challenger ride, so I knew all about Koko's "humanity" from an early age, but I'd never seen this documentary before, and it's a fascinating relic of its era.

Both Koko and Penny are still alive, well and living together in Silicon Valley. Koko is now 40 years old and she knows about 1,000 signs and can understand about 2,000 words of spoken English. Oh, and she has her own YouTube channel, naturally.

Note: Penny talks to/with/about Koko the exact same way I talk to my human toddler.

Note: I'll be damned if in one scene Koko and Mikey aren't cavorting together in the plantings just off Palm Drive at Stanford University, just rolling around on their leashes as if they were friendly puppies. Why were there no talking gorillas hanging around campus when I was there?! What a ripoff, man.


NEXT OF KIN: WHAT CHIMPANZEES HAVE TAUGHT ME ABOUT WHO WE ARE, by Roger Fouts

Extraordinary book. Should be required reading in any human biology class, but more than that, it's a rollicking read. The charming “talking chimp” Washoe at the center of the story is a compelling, strong female character, and her multiple close escapes from villainous scientists, her heroic leadership of her troop, her exceptionally warm mother's heart and her genuine friendship with the author (her “big brother” Roger) make for a great story. Fouts intertwines her story with his story, the story of primate evolution, the culture wars that make Darwin a dirty word in America, primate research around the world, university faculty lounge backbiting and so much more.

(a) Key points from Next of Kin

  • Chimps (and presumably bonobos) are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas or orangutans. They are us, and we are them.
  • We think we humans are unique and made especially in the image of God, etc, etc., but Fouts argues our humanness is less interesting than our beingness, and that, well, chimps are people, too. Capable of generating language, transmitting culture and experiencing feelings and suffering, they are anything but dumb animals distinct from us.
  • Individual chimpanzees are as unique as individual humans, their individual personalities resulting, as ours do, from a combination of inborn temperament, upbringing, experience, genetics, physical gifts and “education.”
  • Chimps stay close to their mothers until they are at least 10 years old, as do human children, and they can live to be 50 years old or more. They have memories much like our own, and will remember friends, family members, experiences and training their whole lives through, whether they are living in the wild, a biomedical research facility, a zoo or perhaps all three at different times.
  • On the topic of sign language, which was the breakthrough tool that allowed scientists to see how cognitively advanced chimps really were, Fouts expresses a belief that gestural language actually preceded the development of spoken language in humans, noting (among multiple other points) that infants gesture in various ways as much or more than they communicate vocally, we universally “regress” to signing when spoken language becomes unavailable, and that the tongue and hands seem to be closely, unconsciously linked in human communication.
(b) The story of Washoe

Fouts uses the story of his extraordinary friend, family member and research subject Washoe to teach his readers a stunning lesson about the personhood of great apes. Read this story and your thinking about the nature of the soul will be changed forever. The gist of Fouts' message, however, can be gleaned might be this from the second-to-last page of the book: “There was one [memory] that stood out [as we celebrated Washoe's 30th birthday]: It was that terrible morning in 1970 when five-year-old Washoe woke up inside the chimpanzee colony at the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma. For the first time since her infancy she was face to face with other chimpanzees, and she referred to them, disdainfully, as BLACK BUGS. From that moment forward Washoe could have held on to her 'human superiority' and ignored or mistreated the other chimps. After all, they were strange looking, ill-mannered, and didn't even know sign language. But Washoe let go of her cultural arrogance, and she seemed to care deeply for her long-lost kin. She mothered the young, defended the weak, and saved the life of a newcomer.”

(c) The story of Enos

There was once a NASA “space chimp” named Enos. He was sent into space in 1961 and “Trouble arose...the Mercury's banana pellet system went haywire and began giving Enos shocks for his correct responses. Suddenly the five-year-old chimpanzee was faced with a reward-punishment system that contradicted more than a year of intensive training. Scientists assume that Enos would begin responding incorrectly in order to find the banana pellet rewards, but instead he overrode NASA's malfunctioning system and performed the flight tasks he knew were right, even though he received an electric shock for every correct lever move.” [italics added for emphasis] Long story short, Enos survived even though he was minutes away from being cooked alive in his overheating capsule as it landed in the ocean, scientists were barely able to replicate Enos' performance on-board the capsule even when they weren't being electrocuted, and as a result of Enos' bravery, NASA engineers made hundreds of design changes to their system before sending John Glenn into space in 1962.

(d) The story of Mark and David

Fouts originally wanted to be a child psychologist before he met Washoe and followed her into the world of ape language studies, and at one point he went back to that a bit when a friend asked him to try some of his sign language teaching techniques with one, then two, autistic boys.

“After observing David I was more certain than ever that sign language might work for him. Signing might capitalize on David's two working channels, the visual and the motor.” David began signing and then speaking and then combined spoken words into phrases. “I was completely stumped by this development. Why would his signing, which is visual, lead him to speak, which is auditory and vocal?” Fouts taught the same lessons to another autistic boy, Mark, and had the same results. “Mark began speaking. First it was one word in our fifth week. Then more and more words until the tenth week, when he began combining words and phrases. When I charted Mark's progress in language development, there were four adjacent curves, each beginning a few weeks apart, that traced the same arc. There was one curve for signs, another for signed phrases, a third for words, and a fourth for word phrases...[I later] discovered that at least two other teams of researchers were trying sign language with autistic children and had reported results similar to mine...Speech was beginning to look like a pleasant side effect of sign language training in autistic children, although nobody had the slightest idea why...[Then researcher Dr. Doreen Kimura] explained to me that the region of the brain that controlled speech also appeared to control precise hand movements. Patients with aphasia could understand or produce a word, but they could not combine words into a sentence...It took about one second for this to sink in. Speech involves precise and sequential motor movements...[both sign and speech] are forms of gesture. Sign language uses gesture of the hands; spoken language is a gesture of the tongue. The tongue makes precise movements, stopping at specific places around the mouth so that we can produce certain sounds. The hands and fingers stop at precise places around the body to produce signs. These precision movements of the tongue and hands are not just related, they are connected through the motor regions of the brain.”


The info highlighted in blue above is basically the information I've been trying to find about the "benefits" of sign language and why it works to promote language development in both normal kids and kids with special needs. I knew that gross motor control of the hands is easier for babies than managing the 100-plus muscles of the face and throat, but this explains the brain element of it all. The use of sign language is essentially a workout for the same areas of the brain that eventually control spoken language, strengthening and activating them and building more connections to the areas of the brain that control language production. Neat.

Finally, I think it's worth noting that the scientists who were assigned to teach Koko and Washoe language soon lost their scientific "objectivity" and became deeply emotionally attached to their subjects. Both Penny Patterson and Roger Fouts treated their talking apes as human family members with special needs and eventually valued their apes' personhood before their scientific significance. That's not to say that the research conducted by the scientists is invalid, just to suggest that perhaps great "parenting" is what made Koko and Washoe so successful, and studying the teaching/parenting methods used by Fouts and Patterson to "raise" their "cross-fostered"/"bicultural" apes might be as interesting as studying the apes themselves.