Raising a child with Down syndrome has its challenges, and for Monica Blouin, the mother of a 4-year-old with the disorder, one of those challenges was communication.
Blouin's solution? American Sign Language. Blouin and her daughter, Madeleine, have been using it to help communicate since Madeleine was very young, and while it helped mother and daughter interact, it also created a new opportunity for Blouin, who began a business — — teaching sign language to parents and children.
As a legal data analyst in Chicago, Blouin had a job that paid well and offered her professional satisfaction. But it also meant 15-hour work days that took her away from her two children.
After putting her youngest down for a nap one day, Blouin decided to take an online sign language test by Signing Times Academy, the company that provides the DVDs and teaching tools Blouin and her daughter used.
She passed it, but more than that, she took it as, well, a sign.
"The wheels started turning for me," she said. "I knew nobody was doing this. ... I kinda felt the calling to go forward with this."
Blouin became certified as an instructor through Signing Times, quit her job and began Lil Miracles earlier this year. She then began contacting kid-friendly organizations and businesses in the Southland to find places that would be interested in hosting classes.
Although Blouin's motivation for learning to sign hinged on her daughter's Down syndrome, most of the kids she teaches don't suffer from language delays. Parents enroll so that they can simply avoid frustrating situations when a child has trouble expressing what he or she wants or is feeling.
"It's a huge one-up for Mom and Dad," Blouin said. "Not being able to communicate can create tantrums. If they know a sign, they can tell you what they're feeling. The frustration is gone. They feel comfortable that they're communicating with you."
In Frankfort, Blouin has sessions at , a children's clothing boutique. On Tuesday mornings, Blouin places a multicolored "parachute" on the floor and the kids and their mothers sit in a circle, learning to sign through music and computer-based lessons.
"It's amazing how (signing) helped bridge the gap between infant and toddler," said Mary Skopek, who attends Tuesday classes with Jonathan, 2, her youngest of three children.
Kristin Nielsen-Schoon, the owner of Lil Surprises, who brings her daughter, Ashley, to the classes, has found that her 9-year-old son has even developed an interest in learning to sign and asks to skip school so he can attend the classes.
"He told Ashley, 'We're going to make our own secret language, and mom won't know," Nielsen-Schoon said.
Blouin continues to search for area venues interested in her classes. Along with Frankfort, she also holds sessions at the , where she also is working with the administration to curate a new exhibit. In January, Bloudin said she'll be teaching special classes for the through the , as well as the and libraries.
As she continues to grow her business, Blouin says she wants to become more than just a place for instruction. She wants to be a resource who helps other parents overcome the hurdles she faced with a daughter with communication difficulites.
"I'm finally happy," she said. "I think what I'm doing is a good thing. To me, it's awesome, and I don't feel the need to go back to my corporate job. I want to be that person who helps out other. I want to provide something that I wish I had (as a person)."