Q1. Why should I sign with my hearing child when he is already developing normally?

Signing with your pre-verbal baby can:

  • Accelerate verbal language development
  • Increase his I.Q. (10-12 points)
  • Increase his interest in books
  • Stimulate intellectual development
  • Change the way you interact with him
  • Empower him to express his wants, needs, fears and feelings sooner
  • Reduce frustration and avert temper tantrums
  • Build infant self-esteem

Q2. When should I start signing with my baby?

In their book, Baby Signs, Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn suggest you can start modeling signs from birth. After 6 months, however, babies are more likely to possess the ability to remember signs and the motor skills to produce them. You can consider the indicators of readiness below to determine whether your baby is showing interest in communicating. An answer of “Yes” to any one of them means that this is a good time to sign with your pre-lingual baby or toddler. For most babies, this readiness falls between 8 and 12 months of age although sign language can be useful to fill in the gaps of communication through toddlerhood.

  • Is your baby at least 6 months old?
  • Is your baby beginning to wave bye-bye or clap hands?
  • Is your baby beginning to shake his head “yes” or “no”?
  • Is your baby beginning to take an interest in picture books, playing “so big” or in finger plays (i.e., itsy bitsy spider)?
  • Is your baby frustrated when you don’t understand what he needs?
  • If your baby is a little older, are there still important things he or she doesn’t have words for? It’s not too late!

Q3. How long will it be before my baby signs to me?

It depends, but if you begin signing when your child is 6-7 months old it is quite possible that by the time your child reaches 8-9 months he will be signing to you. Some children do not start signing back until they are closer to 12 months old. Typically, they will start with the signs and gestures that involve facial expression (blowing, panting), then whole arm signs (i.e., bye bye, clapping), then hand signs (i.e., more, milk) and finally signs involving various hand shapes and more dexterity (i.e., cat, pointing) Once they have internalized the meanings of the signs and have developed the cognitive and motor skills necessary to sign, they will communicate to you. This process is similar to a child learning speech.

Q4. Does using sign language with babies interrupt or delay a child’s speech development?

Actually, research states the opposite is true. Using American Sign Language with your child can accelerate speech development. Since they are already using language in their heads and putting signed words together to communicate things, once their articulators are able to form the sounds, they quickly add speech to their signs. Gradually, they drop the signs and only use the spoken word. Much like crawling does not inhibit a child’s ability to walk; there has been no indication of a resulting speech delay from signs.

Q5. Do I have to learn an entire new language?

The intention of using sign language is not to teach you or your child a second language, but to facilitate earlier communication. You will be supporting spoken English by modeling signs for key words. Your child will then sign those key words that will become launching pads for language exposure.

Q6. Won’t my baby talk soon anyway?

There is quite a continuum from “first words” to “intelligible  conversation”.  Not only does signing help you baby express thoughts  and words that he can’t say, it also helps him clarify the meaning of  what he is saying once he starts verbalizing.  For example a child  may say “ba”.  He could be meaning “ball”, “bottle” or “blanket”.   Children who sign make their intentions clearer while speaking.

Q7. Aren’t ASL signs too hard for babies to make?

Babies have limited small motor coordination so initially the  signs they produce won’t be exactly like an adult’s sign.  Similar to  how your baby hears you say “bottle” but only mimics “ba-ba”, he’ll  approximate the sign he sees you make as best he can.  You will soon  recognize his version of the sign.  Remember the goal is  communication so as long as you know what his sign means, he has  effectively communicated.