Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reasons to Sign with Baby and Keep Signing with Toddler

When Alice was a newborn, we decided to use sign language with her.  If you are considering using sign with your own child here are some pros and "cons".  If you are ready to get started, but are unsure how to make the most of ASL with your child, here is an article with ideas and resources for you.

It is fairly common to use baby signs now and there has been a lot of research done about it so here is the gist of what I found in the research I did when Alice was a "bun in the oven".

Cons (well, sort of):

  • I only ever found two cons listed one of them was, "babies who sign may have their speech delayed".  This "Con" is actually untrue.  As you read through the Pros, you will find studies have demonstrated the opposite to be the case.  It is true that in children who speak late (already well into their toddler-hood), there is some debate about whether introducing sign at this late stage is helpful or a hinderance. The research here is conflicted, but I'm talking about beginning signing with Babies here.
  • It will require work on your part to learn some signs and use them consistently for the advantages to actually come to fruition.  You'll also need to learn more than the typical, milk, more, and all done to really make it worth your while.  Many people stop at just a few words, but the benefit comes when your child can fully communicate with you before they are able to put together whole sentences in speech.  You will find, however, ASL for the level you will need, is not difficult to learn.  Here is how I went about learning ASL.
  • I don't really see this one as a con, but it is something to know in case your goal in signing with your child is to somehow make him or her have a higher IQ or something.  Many of the advantages are only advantages for the first one-three years of life.  If you are unable to do sign with your baby, there is no evidence to prove that advantages last beyond the age of three.  It may make toddler hood a lot easier for the both of you, but it has not yet been shown that kids that signed as babies are more likely to make more money, have happier lives, or be better people in any way as adults.  Long story, short:  If you can't, or don't want to do it - don't sweat it because it is the small stuff.


  • Sign Language Helps Kids Communicate Earlier:  Kids who are born to fluent ASL users, are often able to communicate through sign around six months and sometimes even as early as four months.  Kids of speaking parents who use baby sign with their children starting at about 3 months or earlier, find their kids able to begin communicating with them around 7 months and as early as 5 months.  
  • Kids that are introduced to sign before six months often (not always, but on average) speak sooner too.  Kids that have had sign language in their early lives, are more likely to start Speaking early and have a larger Spoken vocabulary than their non-signing peers at earlier ages.  Those persons who felt I was making a mistake with my child and had to express this, most commonly either asked me if I was worried about Alice speaking late because of sign, or told me this was sure to be the result (depending on how polite they were).  It was great to know the opposite to usually be the case so I could reassure those who were truly concerned.  To explain this, some scientists say signing helps get language centers in the brain firing sooner.  It is true that in studies done on one year old children, those who sign have areas of their brains lighting up that aren't lighting up in other kids.  It is possible though, that it is not the signing itself.  Parents that take the time to learn some signs to use with their kids, might just be spending more time on average doing language-related activities (speaking with their kids, pointing things out and naming them, reading books, looking at print and letters, singing rhyming songs, playing communication games etc.) with their kids in general.
  • Because they Communicate More Clearly Sooner, there is Less Crying and Fit Throwing with Kids That Sign.  The adults around these kids are more likely to understand what a child wants or needs and address that need or want sooner - before the child goes over the edge.  Alice was signing milk at about 5 months which meant I knew she was hungry before she had to cry for it.  By 8 months, she could tell me that an elephant was her favorite animal (whole sentences in the ASL grammar).  While knowing what they want does not mean they automatically get it, just the ability to acknowledge the want often staves off the fit that comes from kids simply not feeling understood. 
  • We can still use the little bits that we remember in situations where silence is usually required, or to communicate across a noisy playground - she is six.  
  • I have since met a few deaf people, and since I did not use Baby Signs, but actually employed ASL (in my beginner's way anyway) I have made a few friendships I may not have been able to make as easily without ASL in my life.

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