Sign language is a series of hand and arm movements used to express words and phrase,s usually used by hearing impaired people. Hearing people of course sometimes learn to sign to allow them to communicate with the deaf community.
There are huge numbers of different sign languages used throughout the world. The most commonly used sign language in the US is “American Sign Language” or ASL.
Increasingly a specialized form is being used to communicate with infants and toddlers. Why might anyone want to teach a hearing child to sign? The development of speech in young children can lag behind their cognitive ability but they still have a desire to communicate their needs. The gap between their desire to communicate and their ability to do so can cause frustration and tantrums – making life difficult for parents Language of desire.
Generally speaking, baby hand/eye coordination may develop sooner than verbal skills. It therefore makes sense to help children use hand movement to convey simple words before they are able to produce clear speech.
A child is capable of learning some sign language from between six and eight months, considerably earlier than when they would normally produce their first words. Research by Joseph Garcia in the 1970s has shown that using sign language with babies from the age of around six months, can mean they are able to communicate effectively by signing, at about the age of nine months.
Teaching can begin with just three or four signs. Words are used along with the signs so that speech is still being encouraged. Eye contact is used and an emphasis is placed on the word sound. Teaching a child to sign is done by simple repetitions. By using the sign for example for milk, every time milk is given, the child will learn to associate the sign with the milk. Since babies are good at copying, the child will mimic the sign and thus learn to be able to communicate a desire for milk
Although there has not been extensive research it has been shown by Acredolo and Goodwyn in 2000 that using baby signing can improve mental development in babies as well as improving parent/baby relationships. It may also improve the range of vocabulary in spoken language.
There is evidence that it reduces frustration thus avoiding tantrums and undesirable behaviour in babies and toddlers. More research is required into the immediate and long-term benefits of using baby sign language to compare babies taught sign language, with those who are involved in activities with parents that are equally as stimulating. This would be to determine if it is specifically sign language which is helpful, rather than the extra interaction. Whatever the truth may be, there is certainly much anecdotal evidence of the benefits of signing available on the internet.
There are books about baby signing available, but there is no official written form of it in American Sign Language. Baby signing is best learned using a video via online resources offering an ASL video dictionary and a free database of signs.