What is baby sign?
Baby sign in an increasingly popular way for parents to communicate with young children who haven’t yet begun to talk. It involves the use of American Sign Language hand shapes and movements, some of which are modified for babies’ motor skills. Baby sign makes it possible to “talk” with your child before she says her first word!
What are the benefits?
Sign language has been shown to have several positive communicative benefits for babies. It can serve to decrease “bad” behavior associated with a child’s inability to convey wants and needs. Crying, hitting, and tantrums related to frustration may be easily diminished if the child is able to communicate simple ideas through sign. Similarly, signing allows young children to convey vital information about their well-being, such as if they are hungry or in pain, before they have the motor control over their vocal folds and articulatory structures to form words. Signing can increase the amount of positive interactions between parent and child, as many parents find it enjoyable to gain insight into their child’s thoughts.
If my baby signs, will she still learn to talk?
Many parents are wary of using sign language with their young children, fearing that it will eliminate their child’s need to learn spoken language. More specifically, they think that their child will begin to rely too much on the use of signs and not learn to talk within the expected timeframe (approximately 12 months of age). However, the leading research in this area shows the opposite to be true. The use of sign not does not hinder a child’s language growth, but has actually been shown to improve receptive and expressive language development by stimulating the “language center” in the brain.
What does the research show?
A study funded by the National Institute of Child and Human Development demonstrated that babies who learn to sign often learn to speak sooner than babies who do not. By the time they reach age two, their vocabulary contains an average of 50 more words than children who did not learn to sign. At age three, they demonstrated language abilities generally attributed to children a year older (Glairon, 2003). In a similar study, clinicians taught parents to use sign language with their infants starting at about 11 months of age. The babies started using these signs slightly before they began using spoken language (Goodwyn, Acredolo, and Brown, 2000). A third study showed that infants who were exposed to sign language scored higher on a variety of language tests up to age 36 months than babies who did not learn to sign (Gleason & Ratner, 2009).
When should we start signing?
Babies as young as six to seven months old can remember a sign. By eight months, they have to ability to imitate gestures and sign single words. At age two, toddlers can begin to sign compound words and full sentences. However, most parents and children fade out their use of sign before they reach the level of phrases and sentences in favor of spoken language.
If your child has already started saying their first words, it’s still not too late to begin signing. Baby sign can add words to their vocabulary, and give them a way to use words that they might not be able to say yet.
How do we get started?
For the most favorable outcomes for you and your baby, pair your gestures with words. Signs and verbalizations serve as symbols to developing infants. Using both simultaneously will ease the transition between signing and spoken language, as your child will realize that there is more than one way to get their message across. With time, children with typically developing speech and language will begin to sign less as their command of speech evolves.
Parents who choose to sign with their infants should realize that sign is not a guaranteed method of communication. If your child seems resistant to signing, do not push them to do so. Please, remember: while signing may be a useful and pleasurable way to interact with your baby, it should not be a platform from which to turn your child into a “baby genius”. Signing will only serve as a useful method of communication if it is a positive experience for both parties involved.
Interested in taking baby sign classes? The Speech Studio, located at 892 Route 35 in Cross River, will be holding sign language and early communication classes for parents and babies (recommended for ages six to eighteen months) this fall. Classes will be held on Wednesdays from 9:30 am to 10:30 am, beginning on October 17th. To register please call (914) 893–2223.