AVV, aka "Babs".
Infant Sign Language
(Author's Note: This was a hurried essay in response to a few comments I'd received about the myth that baby sign delays speech. I apologize for the poorer flow and fewer articles and links then are contained in my other essays. One day I'll sit down and flesh it out a little more.)
There is a popular belief that
teaching sign language to a child will delay speech. This is absolutely
not true. Signing with your baby paves the road for a deeper understanding
of the language and fascilitates learning to talk: signing makes
it easier, not harder.
It was once believed that
children learn to talk entirely on the basis of hearing language
and then practicing, thereby if the child has deaf parents she would
have drastically delayed verbal speech, as it is not common in her
I found an article a bit ago about how language develops in children. It's really interesting, but be warned that it's quite technical (despite the cutsey pictures along the side).
Here is a section of the article that outlines the point I'm making quite nicely:
"Deaf children exposed to signed languages from birth, acquire these languages on an identical maturational time course as hearing children acquire spoken languages. Deaf children acquiring signed languages do so without any modification, loss, or delay to the timing, content, and maturational course associated with reaching all linguistic milestones observed in spoken language. Beginning at birth, and continuing through age 3 and beyond, speaking and signing children exhibit the identical stages of language acquisition. These include the (a) "syllabic babbling stage" (7-10 months) as well as other developments in babbling, including "variegated babbling," ages 10-12 months, and "jargon babbling," ages 12 months and beyond, (b) "first word stage" (11-14 months), (c)"first two-word stage" (16-22 months), and the grammatical and semantic developments beyond. Surprising similarities are also observed in deaf and hearing children's timing onset and use of gestures as well. Signing and speaking children produce strikingly similar pre-linguistic (9-12 months) and post-linguistic communicative gestures (12-48 months). Deaf babies do not produce more gestures, even though linguistic "signs" (identical to the "word") and communicative gestures reside in the same modality, and even though some signs and gestures are formationally and referentially similar. Instead, deaf children consistently differentiate linguistic signs from communicative gestures throughout development, using each in the same ways observed in hearing children. Throughout development, signing and speaking children also exhibit remarkably similar complexity in their utterances."
Babies naturally communicate
through expressions and gestures right from birth. A parent who
practices elimination communication, for instance, will learn to
be deeply aware of these signals. A baby who is about to urinate will
have certain body cues that her parent then picks up on. Responding
to these becomes second nature very quickly.
Best introduced between six and seven months (but no time is too late!) sign language helps your baby learn to communicate on both an oral and physical level. Learning is simple; take out a book from your library or find a website that shows you some basic signs, teach yourself, and then make the signs every time you say the word or engage in the activity. For instance if you're bottle-feeding you would sign "bottle" when you ask your baby "do you want your bottle?" and then sign it again when you give it to her. It can take anywhere from a week to a few months before your baby starts signing back to you, and you may see only a few signs here and there until a key age where a phenomonen jokingly referred to as a "signing explosion" may take place. This is a time of frenzied learning where vocabularies can jump at amazing speeds on a daily basis. In a baby who has been signed to consistantly since six or seven months, this time is around 13 or 14 months old - but it varies. And for some babies there is a more gradual build in vocabulary. Both are normal.
Good signs to start with are ones you'd use on a daily basis like; Bottle, nurse, eat, hungry, change, bath, more and 'all done'. The more signs you use, the quicker your baby learns them. By just over a year the normal sign language vocabulary varies between 10 and 50 words depending on how consistant you are and how many you choose to introduce.
So, what is normal in regards
A child who has truly delayed speech will have a visit to a speech therapist, and one of the first things they'll ask of you is to teach your child sign. It is widely recognized as a valuable tool in aiding language development, although it is not necessary for a hearing child to learn - so if you don't feel it's right for you, don't feel pressured to jump on the babysign bandwagon.
Having a way to communicate successfully with a pre-verbal (or non-verbal) child is incredibly helpful. It reduces frustration on parent and child to be able to, with a mere gesture, see what she wants or needs. Signing has also been shown to raise IQ by an average of 12 points (which probably comes as no surprise to parents who sign regularly with their children, and are communiciating easily and clearly in a pre-verbal stage).
Studies and Articles:
Places to start:
Articles on Late
Talking and Language Development:
Heather AVV, aka "Babs". Please do not redistribute without my permission.
Email me : 'summerstorms at telus dot net' with questions, comments, or corrections.