Friday, 30 December 2011

My very own 'Twin Study'

As a result of some discussions recently on Twitter I decided to use my last blog of 2011 to talk about some of my experiences of being a twin mummy. Most of you are aware I am the proud mummy of twins, my son Eoghan and my daughter Aine, now aged 15 (16 in April 2012, eek!)

They were born in 1996 when I was in the middle of my postgraduate Social Work training. I had already completed a degree and masters in Psychology so it's fair to say I was interested in how being different sex twins would affect their socialisation and development. The little babies had no idea they were going to be subjects of their mum's experiments even before they were born!

When I was at Queens there was research being undertaken in the Psychology Dept on prenatal responsiveness by Peter Hepper **. I remember being fascinated with the discovery that newborn babies who had been exposed to a specific TV theme tune as foetuses (Neighbours!) responded to this hearing this tune by exhibiting changes in heart rate, number of movements, and behavioural state! During my pregnancy the 'Mozart Effect' was widely debated, i.e., the idea that hearing classical music while in the womb affects developing babies cognitive development. Wanting to give the twins the best start I could I made a tape of classical music and played in on my stereo every night, holding the speakers to my belly to be sure the babies could hear it! It was obvious they did as there was a flurry of activity when the music started!

I have absolutely no idea if the music affected their cognitive development (although they are both very academically capable) but it definitely was remembered by them after they were born. We were in hospital for a week after their birth (that wouldn't happen now!). The first night I got home I put my classical music tape on when they were becoming unsettled. The results truly shocked me! As soon as the music started, both babies stopped crying immediately. It was very clear by their reactions that they recognised the sound. For the next few days I played the music every time they were upset and it comforted them. It only lasted for a short time but it was still fascinating to see that not only can babies hear in the womb but they find those familiar sounds comforting!

I had always been interested in the nature vs nurture debate and the impact of socialisation on children. I believed that nurture had the greatest impact on children's sense of identity. I saw the range of toys available for children and how they were categorised as male or female and was determined not to differentiate. My very traditional father was appalled when Eoghan got dolls to play with as a toddler and Aine got Lego and train set. I expected that how I 'nurtured' the twins, bringing them up in exactly the same environment, giving them the same toys to play with, treating them the same would result in their not adhering to traditional gender roles. How wrong was I?

I was soon very clear that, despite both children having access to all toys, Eoghan favoured the toys that would be seen as 'male' and Aine those seen as 'female'. Not only that, everyone commented on how Eoghan was a 'typical wee boy' and Aine a 'typical wee girl'. Eoghan loved climbing, rough and tumble play, building and making things. Aine on the other hand hated climbing and rough and tumble play and loved playing with dolls, role play and dressing up! My theory of socialisation and nurture having more impact than nature was turned on its head! I have no idea if this is because the children were born with a predisposition to certain characteristics and behaviours or due to other influences I had no control of, such as how they were treated by others, advertising, etc.

Eoghan and Aine continued to grow up as individuals who are as 'different as chalk and cheese' still displaying stereotypical 'male' and 'female' behaviours. As teenagers, Eoghan does not discuss his feelings (or much else for that matter!) and Aine discusses little else! However, they are both gentle, caring, well mannered and beautiful children. Aine will hug me for saying that and Eoghan will grunt!

Being the mother of twins is such a precious gift. The experience of their early years was so different than my subsequent experience of having a single child. They were a comfort blanket for each other on occasions like the first day of school (there were no tears or tantrums). The fact that they are different sexes meant that they were never really labelled as 'the twins' but had their own identities. They looked out for each other (and still do!), played together and fought with each other. They are now very close and I hope they will remain that way forever.

I can't believe my 'babies' are going to be 16 in 2012. My do I feel old!

Happy New Year everyone!

Deirdre xx

**(Hepper, P, G. An examination of foetal learning before and after birth. The Irish Journal of Psychology, Vol 12(2), 1991, 95-107)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Importance of Being Accurate!

This article describes how a toddler group in York has decided to stop using the commonly used symbol for diamond as it is similar to the sign for female genitalia and could potenitally be offensive to deaf children or parents. This has caused a controversy similar to that caused when Justin Fletcher was accused of using a rude sign (the sign for happy in makaton is similar to the sign for f***ing in BSL).

Some people think this political correctness gone mad while others understand and support the decision of the toddler group. From experience I know how easy it is to change the meaning of a sign by altering the handshape, movement or orientation of the sign. Most people who have studied sign language will tell you a funny or embarrassing story about making a slight error that completely changed the meaning they were trying to convey.

People often find it hard to understand why I insist that our teachers have a qualification in sign language. The accuracy of the signs we use is very important to me and while we all make mistakes I want to do what I can to ensure signs are shown accurately in all our classes. Knowing our teachers are all trained in sign language not only helps our service users have confidence in the accuracy of the signs they are learning but gives them the flexibility to ask for additional signs.

Anyone who has been coming to Sign2Music classes for a number of years will tell you how many signs I have substituted since I first started to ensure accuracy and that I am using the most commonly used N Ireland regional versions of signs! No doubt we will continue to make mistakes and correct them, but we are trying our very best!

I would love to know your thoughts on the subject so feel free to share your comments.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas is Comiing!

Christmas really is on it's way! Where did 2011 go to? It must have been the fastest year on record or I am simply getting old!

I had 2 wonderful Christmas parties this week in Ballynahinch and am in the middle of Christmas sessions galore! Our parties are so much fun. Some of the children really get into the swing of things by dressing up...and so do the teachers! We sing Christmas songs, read a Christmas story and of course have a visit by Signing Santa!

I love this time of year as it gives me the chance to dig out the multiple Christmas trees and boxes of decorations that I love to decorate my house with. And of course I get to sing Christmas songs once again! I LOVE them!!!

I made a couple of videos of Christmas songs last year and have added Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer to the collection this year.

I will be adding more over the coming weeks so keep an eye on our You Tube page. Why not subscribe and you will be e-mailed when I add a new video?

Have a very Happy Christmas everyone!