Have you ever wondered what your infant is thinking? Teaching your baby the basics of sign language is one way to understand what she wants before she learns to talk.
Babies repeatedly exposed to sign language between 6 and 7 months often begin to communicate with signs by 9 or 10 months. While many deaf parents use sign language to communicate with their infants, more and more hearing parents have also embraced signing. Some parents make up their own hand signals, but most parents use the signs from American Sign Language.
I learned about baby signing when my last daughter was born. We received a terrific book on the subject. I taught her basic signs including “milk,” (one hand makes a squeezing motion, imitating the action of milking a cow) and “more” (touching fingers and thumb together in each hand and bringing both hands together). I continued talking with my daughter as I signed. Not only did she learn to sign back to me, but she also developed speech at an early age.
My daughter's experience has been corroborated by research findings. Non-deaf children who learn to sign often become verbal at an earlier age than children who don’t learn signing. Studies have shown that these children score higher on IQ tests later in childhood.
There are other benefits to signing. Sometimes my daughter would sign for something while she was nursing—no need to release from nursing to let us know what she wanted. As she became older, we could communicate nonverbally in places where we needed to keep quiet. If she motioned that she wanted something, I could discretely sign back the answer “yes” or “no.”
Learning sign language is not difficult and can be an activity that engages the whole family. There are a variety of resources to draw from including books, videos and instructional classes. The Internet also boasts many helpful sites. Here are two of my favorites:
1) “My Baby Can Talk” features a video dictionary of baby signs as well as other products related to signing: http://www.mybabycantalk.com/content/dictionary/
2) ASLPRO was created as a resource for teachers. In addition to a video dictionary with thousands of signs, there is an "ASL for Babies" dictionary you can access. http://www.aslpro.com/cgi-bin/aslpro/aslpro.cgi
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.