We use Baby Sign Language in an effort to facilitate communication with our infants and young children. Baby sign language was first observed by William Whitney the 19th century American Linguist, that children of Deaf parents are able to communicate with their parents earlier than children with hearing parents. These children learned to speak and were on the same speaking developmental path as other children with hearing parents. The subject was left mostly univestigated until Dr. Gracia began researching the use of Sign Language to teach children of hearing parents. In the first years of life speech production lags behind cognitive and emotional development. Hand-eye coordination develops sooner than the ability to speak so an infant can learn simple signs before they can actually say the words. It is easier to sign than to speak.
The gap between desire and ability to communicate can lead to frustration for both baby and caregiver. Hearing and deaf babies will benefit from early acquisition of communication skills.
90% of deaf babies have hearing parents. Parents of deaf babies face a whole host of difficult questions that may not be relevant for a hearing baby. But, at the outset at least, skills and goals for parents will be the same in ultimately achieving better communication between baby and caregiver. There will be a point when many hearing parents stop teaching their child to sign, however, parents of deaf babies should continue learning and using sign language as it will benefit both to have good communication skills throughout their lives even if the parent chooses a cochlear implant for the child.
TEACHING YOUR BABY A FEW SIGNS TO FACILITATE EARLY COMMUNICATION….
You can learn a few ASL baby signs signs to help your baby express her/himself before speech is understandable. You can start teaching these signs right away, but don’t get discouraged.. your baby will start to understand the signs that you demonstrate and voice before her ability to sign back to you. You may even think the arm waving is random but soon you will see that the movements are the first attempts to sign. Even if you have not been signing since your baby was born, by the time your baby is 3-4 months start actively engaging your baby in signing conversation.
Popular first signs are:
- all done, finished
- Careful, take care
- Dad, daddy
- Food, eat
- mommy, mom
- poop, I have to go poop
- Thank you
*A home sign is an action that usually develops from use by either the parent or baby for a particular object or action. For example, my oldest daughter had a soft blanket with a satin border that she would feel between her thumb and fingers. That action became the sign for her favorite blanket.
Some babies will start signing as early as 4 or 5 months…some much later, but with patience and practice most children are quite capable of doing these signs (or something close) by a year old. It is important that you as the parent sign right along with the baby so that you can recognize any attempt for what it is. As the child learns to speak, she might use her signs less until you start to see a sign used only to emphasize a particular want or a need in conjunction with spoken words.
MAKING SIGN LANGUAGE A SECOND LANGUAGE IN YOUR HOME…
The primary caregiver must be fluent in Sign language (ASL) if you want to make this a second language for the household. Usually there is extra incentive to have a bilingual home if there is already a Deaf member in the family or extended family. Sign Language can be used successfully due to any number of communication needs. Autism, Downs, brain injury, muteness, and other learning, language and hearing disabilities, may all benefit from the use of Sign Language for communication.
On a personal note….
David Stewart, profoundly Deaf creator of Signing Online, and his deaf sister Diane grew up in a Hearing family setting. Their hearing loss was a “dawning realization” rather than an instant recognition that something was amiss. Those of us who later knew David and Diane agree that their grasp of language and speech skills indicate they must have had at least some vestige of hearing in their first years of life. “Children who become deaf at the age of two or later are called postlingually deaf. These children have already started speaking and have acquired language skills that will assist in the further development of language as they adjust to being deaf and to learning a new communication mode” (The Signing Family by David A Stewart and Barbara Luetke-Stahlman) Perhaps parents of deaf children will be heartened to know that David, a brilliant and creative person, could not hear but was still able to do everything else… His deafness was a fact of life and no more of a disability for him than the need to wear glasses to read. As I. King Jordan often said “Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.” There is no doubt that David was a highly successful, brilliantly insightful Deaf man who accomplished much and was admired by many. David admitted that when he learned sign language it gave his life a new dimension along with much needed confidence. He wished he had been given the early social and emotional advantages of unfettered communication through Sign Language. From his determination to share this beautiful language the idea of Signing Online was created.
Some Books written by David Stewart
Language in Motion, Exploring the Nature of Sign. By Schein and Stewart. ISBN1-56368-039-4
The Signing Family, What every Parent Should Know about Sign Communication. By Stewart and Luerke-Stahlman ISBN1-56368-06906
Literacy and Your Deaf Child, What Every Parent Should Know. By Stewart and Clarke ISBN1-56368-136-6
E-Z American Sign Language. By Stewart ISBN978-0-7641-4458-5
Some reasons why parents may want to learn to sign with their hearing or deaf baby….
- Signing children have a developmental advantage over non-signing children.
- There are less tantrums resulting from frustration
- Babies who learn to sign have large expressive and receptive language vocabularies
- Increased opportunities to “bond” and have fun together.
Why parents of deaf babies may want to learn sign…..
- Deaf children need to see language in order to acquire it.
- Many deaf children find it easiest to communicate in signs.
- Many parents use signing to communicate successfully with their deaf child.
- Effective communication between deaf children and their parents is important for school achievement.
- Signing is one way for parents to show that they accept their child’s deafness
- For many children, signing is a valuable first step toward acquiring written and/or spoken English.
Your “Best Case Scenario”….
Learn to Sign before the birth of your baby. Take all the courses we offer at Signing Online so you have a good working knowledge of the language you are going to teach your child. Begin signing immediately for practice and smoothness. Use the baby signs and phrases that we demonstrate here as a reference and when you have a quiet moment go through them again to refresh your “baby signing” vocabulary. Sign and talk. Talk and sign. Mime and use lots of facial expression. Have fun, laugh and smile. Most new parents are not ready for the experience of parenthood (I know I wasn’t). For that reason, keep everything as simple as possible and prepare yourself ahead of time. Relax and use your phrases as much as possible while repeating the easier vocabulary when appropriate.