Baby sign language

28 Jul

Michael Alison Chandler reported in the Washington Post article, Baby sign language more popular as parents aim to communicate:

Many babies don’t graduate from jabbering to meaningful extended dialogue until they are closer to 2 years old. A growing number of parents, eager to communicate with their babies sooner, are starting conversations with their hands.
American Sign Language is increasingly becoming a temporary way to bridge baby talk and conversational English….
Proponents say sign language promotes brain development and parent-infant bonding while giving babies a way to communicate their wants and needs a little earlier.
Starting at about 9 months, babies start using their hands and arms to communicate. They often learn to wave and clap and point, and their gestures increase as they begin to stand and walk, freeing their arms to move, said Brenda Seal, director of Gallaudet’s speech-language pa­thol­ogy program.
Babies can begin to imitate signs even if, as with babbling, they offer up a simpler version of the original.
Any kind of sign can come in handy, though, for parents desperate to understand the garbled demands of a frustrated toddler. (Oh, you want shoes! I thought you said juice!!)
“It was the fear of constant meltdowns that inspired me to do it,” said Christy Martinich, a new mom and wealth manager who hosted the class in her Alexandria living room this month.
Ladino told the group that babies can use signs to express more than basic needs. Long before she could string together sentences, Ladino’s daughter was making jokes, she said. At about 13 months, she smirked and signed “snakes” over a pile of spaghetti. Another time, she signed “bath” after dunking her Teddy Graham into a cup of water.
“One of the wonderful things about sign language is that you can peek into their minds and find out what they are thinking,” she said.
The growth of baby sign language is being fueled by a booming cottage industry of mostly mom-run businesses, with names such as Tiny Fingers and WeeHands, that offer lessons in yoga studios, living rooms and community centers.
Scores of books and hundreds of Web sites demonstrate signs suitable for baby mealtimes and bath time. Some teach American Sign Language, and some use other signs or gestures. More than 4 million viewers have clicked on the YouTube video “cute signing baby!,” which shows a 1-year-old in a highchair demonstrating dozens of signs at her mother’s prompting.
With some research to support their concerns, some parents worry that introducing signs or gestures competes for a baby’s attention and working memory and that it can potentially interfere with spoken-language learning.
But the most widely cited research shows the opposite to be true. A longitudinal study published in 2000 and funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that a group of babies who were exposed to signs or gestures along with talking scored better on multiple measures of language acquisition at 2 years old than children who were exposed to talking alone.


Susan Goodwyn, Linda Acredolo, and Catherine Brown (in press). Impact of symbolic
gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.


This is the article in which we present the most important findings from our NIH-sponsored longitudinal study of the impact on verbal development of purposefully enco uraging infants to use symbolic gestures. Standardized tests of both receptive and expressive language development had been administered at 11, 15, 19, 24, 30, and 36 months to both an experimental group of babies (Baby Signers) and two control groups. Results demonstrated a clear advantage for the Baby Signers, thereby laying to rest the most frequently voiced concern of parents – that Baby Signing might hamper learning to talk. In fact, the good news is that Baby Signing actually facilitates verbal language development.

Abstract Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development
Susan W. Goodwyn, Linda P. Acredolo and Catherine A. Brown
California State University, Stanislaus
University of California, Davis
San Diego State University
(2000) Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24, 81-103.

As with any instructional technique, there are pros and cons of baby sign language.

Patricia Carlson posted the article, Baby Sign Language at Parents and kids Magazine:

There is plenty of evidence supporting baby sign language’s efficacy. “I’ve done sign with all my kiddos. It’s a great way to teach them to communicate calmly and effectively before they can articulate,” says mother of four, Alicia McDougall, of Maine. But like any trend, there are those who say it’s not worth the effort and can actually harm your child’s development. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of baby sign language.


Curbs frustration

It’s not uncommon for young children to cry, fuss, or even throw temper tantrums.

You may write it off as your child not knowing what he/she wants, but a more likely answer is that your child simply can’t communicate what he/she wants. You can eliminate a lot of that frustration by using baby sign language. “It gives them a way to communicate while they are working on their words and makes life much less frustrating for them,” says mom of five, Melissa Cyr, of Maine. By signing, your child has the ability to ‘tell’ you his/her need. No more guessing games!

Develops verbal skills

– Baby sign language works by matching a feeling or object with a word.

So it’s no wonder that babies start understanding language before they can actually say what they’re thinking. Parents say it’s encouraging to watch their child make the connection between a sign, a word, and finally the sound of that word. Here’s a neat example from dad David Madore of New Jersey: “My daughter would do the sign for ‘more.’ It had only been a few weeks of signing ‘more,’ and we were making the sign, and she looks at me, puts her hands down, and slowly works her mouth and sounds into saying the word, ‘more.’ So, her first word came as a result of signing.” After her initial skepticism, even speech pathologist Karen Rossignol has come on board. “I was antisign,” the mom from Maine says. “I thought it would delay his speech, but his speech is excellent.” Promotes understanding of emotions – Advocates say signing helps babies and toddlers not only match a movement to a need or an emotion, but eventually, it helps children identify what they’re feeling. This ability to understand what emotion they’re feeling and the appropriate way to express it is a big step for any child to make. Plus, it’s exciting for parents to see and offers another outlet for praise. “Nothing is cuter than seeing [my son] rub his tummy when he says “please,” says mother of two, Kirsten Jensen, of North Dakota.


Teaching time – It will take a consistent routine to teach your baby sign language. There are various methods available through your local hospital, books, the internet, or even ASL classes, but one thing they have in common is that they need to be regularly reinforced. That means using the word and the sign together most, if not all, of the time. This can be especially difficult for families where both parents work. Danielle Karpinos from Chicago says she didn’t see the point of teaching her daughter sign language – as long as she stayed cued in to her daughter’s demeanor and desires. “I figured out really early on what Anya wanted,” Karpinos says.

“Anya said her first word at about 10 months – it was ‘breakfast’.” But if you’re really keen on teaching your child sign language, you may be able to find a daycare that has signing as part of its curriculum.

Consistency – In addition to the time it takes to teach your child sign language, you may also need to teach other family members and friends, too.

Teaching your child to sign won’t do much good if those around him/her don’t keep up the routine.

This can lead to added frustration for your baby and his/her caretakers. For example, your baby can become confused or angry when he/she is signing a need and the person on the receiving end has no idea what the movement means.


– Depending on the method you choose to teach your baby sign language, it’s best to know that there may be a cost associated with it. A quick search on the internet reveals DVD’s starting at $20, seminars upwards of $45, and other package ‘deals’ retailing as much as $150. Marcy Tilas, a mom from Maine, says she didn’t like the marketing aspect of baby sign language programs, especially when some places, like hospitals, offer classes for free. “Do not, I repeat do not, invest in any “Baby Signs” line stuff being sold out there,” she warns. “It is creepy, and hard to follow.” Perhaps it’s best to research local and low-cost options before investing in costly programs.


there is one area where experts and parents are divided on whether or not baby sign language is a good option when it comes to developing your child’s language use: children with disabilities.

Should parents decide that baby sign language is appropriate for their child, Dr. Hoecker of the Mayo Clinic has some great advice.

Jay L. Hoecker, M.D. wrote in the Mayo Clinic article, Is baby sign language worthwhile?

Limited research suggests that baby sign language might give a typically developing child a way to communicate several months earlier than those who only use vocal communication. This might help ease frustration between ages 8 months and 2 years — when children begin to know what they want, need and feel but don’t necessarily have the verbal skills to express themselves. Children who have developmental delays might benefit, too. Further research is needed, however, to determine if baby sign language promotes advanced language, literacy or cognition.
To begin teaching your child baby sign language, familiarize yourself with signs through books, websites or other sources. To get the most out of your baby sign language experience, keep these tips in mind:
Set realistic expectations. Feel free to start signing with your child at any age — but remember that most children aren’t able to communicate with baby sign language until about age 8 months.
Keep signs simple. Start with signs to describe routine requests, activities and objects in your child’s life — such as more, drink, eat, mother and father. Choose signs that are of most interest to your child.
Make it interactive. Try holding your baby on your lap, with his or her back to your stomach. Embrace your baby’s arms and hands to make signs. Or carry your baby and make the sign on his or her body. Alternate talking and not talking while signing. To give signs context, try signing while bathing, diapering, feeding or reading to your baby. Acknowledge and encourage your child when he or she uses gestures or signs to communicate.
Stay patient. Don’t get discouraged if your child uses signs incorrectly or doesn’t start using them right away. The goal is improved communication and reduced frustration — not perfection. However, avoid accepting indiscriminate movements as signs.
Keep in mind that, as you teach baby sign language, it’s important to continue talking to your child. Spoken communication is an important part of your child’s speech development.

One positive thing about baby sign language is that it promotes communication and interaction between the parent and their child.


Baby Sign Language: Does It Work?
Teaching Your Baby Sign Language Can Benefit Both of You

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