How a Mother of an Autistic Child Started My Entrepreneurial Journey – Signing Families
January 30, 2019
“Welcome to Signing Families”. I first wrote those words “officially” in 2006, the year that Signing Families became an educational / instructional company focused on teaching novice learners how to communicate with sign language.
Since then, hundreds of classes and sign language trainings have been conducted and thousands of DVDs and sign language communication charts have been sold or donated to people across the globe. My goal is simple – to build communication bridges one sign at a time.
How did it all begin? Well… one day while I was a School Psychologist working at an elementary school I was asked to attend a special education IEP meeting with a parent who had a child with moderate – severe Autism. Our school based team had just recommended that to help try to facilitate spoken speech or any communication, she may want to consider taking sign language classes. With tears in her eyes she looked at us and asked one simple question, ” Who will watch the child you just told me needs 1 on 1 assistance in his special education self-contained classroom due to his severe needs while I leave for hours to learn sign language?”
My heart stopped. As a mom of two children, I knew exactly what she meant. I had a child who was born with conditions that meant he needed specialized babysitting when he was a baby. I could relate to the challenges that this parent was facing. There was no way she would be able to leave her child with a “regular” babysitter. She was a single parent. She had limited financial resources. She was frustrated. But, most of all – she was upset because she couldn’t provide the one thing she yearned most for her child – an ability to learn to communicate.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept tossing and turning because I continued to hear her voice… “Who will watch the child you just told me needs 1 on 1 assistance..?” The next day I decided I needed to help this mom. It just wasn’t fair. She was dealt a tough situation and we just made it worse. That was unacceptable. So, after a while I created a temporary “fix”, I would make a sign language video with a few dozen basic words and put it on a basic DVD.
Word got out and before I knew I was in the DVD business – making dozens of copies for teachers, friends and even for relatives of people I didn’t know. The phone kept ringing. Email requests flooded my inbox.
That is when “Hubby” said… “I think you have something here.” So, we enlisted some talented people to help create the first DVD from Signing Families: Baby, Toddler and Preschool Sign Language with Louise Masin Sattler and Friends. The differentiator between my DVD and many others was that the audience was “language role models” and not kids. There were no dancing bears or signing birds. Moreover, I open captioned the DVD and added a Spanish – English – Sign Language component. I did this because there was virtually very little sign language instruction available for parents of children with communication needs who were from Spanish speaking homes but living in the United States or Canada.
Emergency Sign Language DVD
DVD sales started off slowly but then the momentum kicked in when Borders and Barnes and Noble started to order. Before long sales were in the hundreds, then thousands. I then created ancillary components to the DVD. A sign language chart to help with expressing WANTS and FEELINGS. This was followed by a website with a plethora of free learning opportunities. And, a very full nationwide training schedule for special needs groups, schools, preschool programs, Head Start and much more.
In 2010 my second DVD series and training program launched. The Sign Language For Emergency Situations was born out of necessity. Simply, we as a nation were not offering equal access communication opportunities to those who were Deaf or had limitations with functional needs. I have written about my journey in the field of emergency management on this blog before. Please feel free to ask me about resources in the comment section below.
Now it is 2019 and the world is a different place than 2006. Instead of DVD sales we have ‘streaming”. So, that means that I have to make a shift in the way I reach an audience. I have uploaded many free YouTube videos for people to either start learning sign language or continue honing their basic skills.
I must confess, a year ago I nearly closed Signing Families. I had lost my “WHY”. I wasn’t selling huge lots of product or traveling as much for trainings. I was the “lost entrepreneur”. But, then I started to look over boxes of materials I saved. Letters from families. Drawings from children. Emails from teachers. Commendations from First Responder groups. I was humbled and knew that I couldn’t stop. I just needed to reinvent. So, I started to teach ASL at a high school, I began to think of new ways to reach an audience yearning to learn to sign and clicked the keys of my laptop once more to inspire parents and teachers via media articles not to give up. At last, I remembered my WHY.
So… dear readers – thank You for allowing me to tell my story. You are groovy, indeed!