When I began weaning my first child, she let me know that she wasn’t happy about this turn of events. Eva was barely a year old, but she told me “more milk please, help!” She didn’t say it out loud...she signed it.
Dr. Joseph Garcia was working as an American Sign Language interpreter when he noticed that hearing children of deaf parents started communicating with sign language at an earlier age than hearing children did with spoken language. This discovery led him to the research that culminated in his book, Sign with Your Baby.
Some argued perhaps signing could delay language acquisition in babies. However, studies have shown that while signing with babies isn’t a magic bullet for a high IQ , it does NOT keep a baby from learning to talk. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis reported that the use of baby signs can reduce crying and whining because the child can communicate their needs before they can talk. While this is helpful for typically developing children, it could lead to the prevention of behavior problems for children at risk due to developmental delays or sensory impairments.
The method for signing with your baby is simple. When they are 6 months old, begin introducing simple ASL signs for core vocabulary such as, “more,” “drink,” and “help” when you say those words. If the signs and words are used consistently by caregivers, babies can begin imitating and then communicating with the signs at 9 months old.
Acredolo L, Goodwyn S. (1996). Baby signs: How to talk with your baby before your baby can talk. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
Garcia J. (1999). Sign with your baby: How to communicate with infants before they can speak. Bellingham, WA: Stratton Kehl.
Mueller, V., Sepulveda, A., & Rodriguez, S. (2014). The effects of baby sign training on child development. Early Child Development & Care, 184(8), 1178-1191. doi:10.1080/03004430.2013.854780
Seal, B. C., & Depalois, R. A. (2014). Manual Activity and Onset of First Words in Babies Exposed and Not Exposed to Baby Signing. Sign Language Studies, 14(4), 444-465.