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Baby Sign Language

Baby Sign Language
Posted on September 26, 2018 by CHS

While most babies don’t begin to say words until the age of 12 to 18 months, many parents are able to communicate with their infants and toddlers earlier, with the help of American Sign Language (ASL). Beginning at nine months, babies use their hands and arms to communicate with various gestures and they can imitate signs even if they can’t articulate the message verbally, because motor skills and hand-eye coordination develop more quickly than verbal language skills. Many parents find that by communicating with signs, they can manage things like mealtime and bath time more easily. In theory, infants who learn baby sign are able to communicate needs such as “eat,” “sleep,” “hug,” etc., which helps them regulate their emotions. Instead of being frustrated with their inability to communicate what they want, they have a means of communicating, which can also facilitate infant-parent bonding.

The sign language babies are capable of learning is a modified version of American Sign Language (ASL) because they can only learn individual words. Proponents say sign language promotes brain development and parent-infant bonding, while giving babies a way to communicate their wants and needs at an earlier age. Some people are concerned that using sign language with infants will delay their verbal development. However, there is evidence to suggest that teaching children to sign is actually linked to better language development. Dr. Linda Acredolo of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Susan W. Goodwyn of the California State University at Stanislaus used their own set of signs for a study in July 2000, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. They found that second graders who were encouraged to use their signing system during the second year of life had an advantage of 12 I.Q. points over children who did not use any method of signing. The children scored better on multiple measures of language acquisition than children who were only exposed to verbal communication.

Research in neuroscience has shown that the areas in the brain that control the mouth and speech and the areas that control the hands and gestures overlap a great deal and develop together. According to the University of California at Davis Language Learning Lab, research has shown that signing babies have larger vocabularies and more advanced cognitive development. Furthermore, if a baby has trouble speaking, speech pathologists may teach the baby to sign in order to stimulate language development and enhance the infant’s ability to communicate with others. Researchers from UC Davis suggested that sign language acts like a trigger to get children excited about learning language, the same way that crawling prompts children to learn to walk.

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. While many parents are interested in helping their child’s verbal and cognitive development or I.Q., Dr. Joseph Garcia, one of the leading experts in the area of baby sign language, notes that perhaps the most important benefit of teaching your child to sign is that it strengthens the infant-parent relationship.

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