Baby sign languagea specialized sign language used to communicate with preverbal infants and toddlershas become increasingly popular over the last few decades. It is intended to help very young children to express their needs and wishes earlier than they could otherwise. Baby signing experts believe that frustration and tantrums can be avoided by closing the gap between desire to communicate and the ability to do so.
Infants from about six months of age can begin to learn the basic signs, which cover such objects and concepts as “thirsty,” “milk,” “water,” “hungry,” “sleepy,” “pacifier,” “more,” “hot,” “cold,” “play,” “bath,” and “teddy bear.”
Joseph Garcia, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, conducted research which showed that babies who are exposed to signs “regularly and consistently” at six to seven months of age can begin to use the signs effectively by their eighth or ninth month.
In addition to ASL, there is an established system of signing called makaton. It comprises “key word” manual signs and gestures which are commonly used with children and adults who have communication, language or learning difficulties. Makaton is a communication aid, not a language, whereas ASL is a language with its own grammar and is used fluently by deaf people. But using signs is likely to be beneficial no matter what method you choose.
The ability to sign basic words could prove helpful in boosting communication and providing a “bridge to the spoken word.” It may also facilitate the acquisition of verbal and written forms of communication later on.
Infants who learn baby sign language also are thought to gain psychological benefits, such as improved confidence and self-esteem. Feelings of anger due to an inability to communicate may not occur as often. Having the ability to sign could be a lifesaver when a child is too distraught to speak clearly.
Parents say that signing is rewarding and aids bonding because of the need to make more eye-to-eye and tactile contact. Also, as children age, it may be easier and perhaps kinder to reprimand the child in public using sign language, saying “no” for example, and equally can become a way of giving praise privately.