There is much confusion in the world of parenting about using “Baby Sign Language” with your child. Research has shown that teaching baby sign language to young children is beneficial to all children, whether they have speech and language delays or not. Let me first discuss why it’s a good idea, and then I will go into how to do it.
Using Sign Language, The Research:
- According to a research review by Millar and Light, the current research provides evidence that using alternative communication means (such as sign language) does not prevent children with developmental disabilities from talking and may actually support their ability to speak.
- Millar and Light also found that using alternative communication (such as sign language) can help older children learn to communicate as well as younger children.
- A Study by Capirici, Cattani, et. al. found that learning sign language could actually improve cognition (intelligence) in typically-developing, hearing children.
Using Sign Language, What The Research Means:
This means that teaching baby sign language with your child will help him develop his language skills and it will not prevent him from speaking. When a child uses sign language, they are able to develop their language system even before they are able to speak. This actually gives them a head start on communicating until their mouth and speech system can catch up. This means that typical children as young as 9 months can begin communicating and learning language, a whole three months before children who must rely on their ability to speak to communicate (typically begins at 12 months).
As for children with speech and language delays, using sign language will allow them to begin communicating before they are able to speak as well. For some children, this is the push they need to begin speaking. This is often true for children with autism. Once these children learn the power of communication (through the use of signs), they often are more motivated to communicate through speech since they now realize what will happen when they communicate.
Using Sign Language: How To Do It:
“Ok, I’m convinced, sign language would be a great way to improve my child’s language and speech skills, but how do I teach her?” Follow the steps outlined below to help your child learn the signs for common words.
1. Choose sign language signs to use when you talk to your child
You don’t have to sign every word you speak, I suggest you choose a selection of words that you want to learn and just sign those when they come up in conversation. I suggest selecting words that are common first words in typically-developing children. These will be easier for your child to learn. Here is my list of suggested first words to sign for your child, though feel free to switch out different words if you feel like there are other things your child would be highly motivated by:
- Nouns: dog, cat, bird, shoe, shirt, pants, cookie, cracker, apple, bed, table, chair, potty, sink, bathtub, car, bike, truck, cup, spoon, bowl, boy, girl, baby, ball, bubble, block, slide, marker, glue
- Social Words: no, stop, all done, all gone, away, more, again, this, that, my, your
- Action Words: go, up, down, eat, throw, sit, open, get, put, help
- Descriptors: big, little, dirty, clean, wet, dry, here, there, on, in
2. Learn the sign language signs for the words you selected
Here’s a video which shows all of my top first words:
You can also download the photo flashcards of these words by clicking this link: Click here to download the sign language flashcards for free!
This will allow you to download a set of flashcards, one for each of the words above, with a picture of the word as well as pictures of the sign on the back. There are also many online resources for learning sign language. One of my favorites is an online dictionary at www.ASLPro.com This website has a great library of signs to learn.
Don’t get stressed about making sure you’re doing “baby sign language” as opposed to “American Sign Language”. The only difference between the two is that “baby sign language” modifies some of the ASL signs to be easier for babies to do. Just use regular American Sign Language signs and if your child gets close to making the sign correctly, go ahead and accept it!
3. Use these signs when speaking to your child
Like I said before, you don’t need to sign every word you speak, just signs the ones you have learned. You can sign these words by themselves when you’re showing the object or action to your child, or you can sign them when you say the word in a sentence. I recommend you do some of both. You’ll want to do this for a while before you expect your child to sign back. If you’re doing this with a typically-developing baby, you can begin signing to her as soon as she’s born, just like you talk to her. The sooner you start, the quicker she will learn.
4. Once you’ve been signing to your child for a while, you can start helping him sign back to you
I recommend you don’t try doing this until your child is at least 10 months old. That’s when his motor skills will probably be good enough to form the signs. When you are offering something to your child, hold it up to show your child but don’t give it to him yet. Ask him what he wants and pause for a minute to see if he will say or sign it first. If not, show him the sign and say the word out loud. Pause again and see if he imitates you. If not, take his hands and help him make the sign. Then, immediately reward him by giving him the object or action just as if he had said it. Keep doing this and eventually, he may begin to imitate the signs on his own instead of needing you to move his hands for him.
Teaching baby sign language doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful, just learn new signs as you have time and start working them into your daily routine. Again, if you are looking for sign language pictures that you can download, check out our store here:
Need More Help with AAC or Sign Language?
Get answers to all of your questions about AAC, autism, and more by joining The Speech Therapy Solution, Carrie Clark’s premium membership program. You’ll get access to all of Carrie’s training videos and printable therapy materials, plus a monthly webinar and an exclusive Facebook group! Join today!