Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Baby Sign Language: Communication for All!

First things first...congratulations to Amber who has won the cereal gift pack giveaway!  Amber - please send an e-mail to me at bateminx@yahoo.com with your address - I'll send you a message on FB in case you don't see this...

When Samantha was about 9 months old, the three of us went to Old Town to sit in a park on the water one afternoon.  I looked over, about 100 feet from where we sat, and there was a boy of about 10 or 12 who had Down syndrome, enjoying the park with his family.  He was signing.  Steve and I had a somewhat panicked discussion about whether or not most people with Ds couldn't talk but could only sign, and what the chances were that Sammi would be in the same situation.  Steve reassured me that it wasn't likely, and that learning signs as a small child wouldn't necessarily replace their ability to speak.  I wasn't so sure.

But Samantha was a relatively early talker.  She said her first word at 11 months (the all-important "more"), and by 15 months had approximately 15-20 spoken words and approximations.  And then suddenly she stopped.  She didn't lose the words she already had learned, but she did stop learning to say new ones.  We thought for sure she'd pick them up again soon, but by 18 months we started to worry that the wait may be longer than we'd hoped.  We had never introduced signs to her prior to this, but we saw the need, and went out and purchased a few baby signs books and flash cards.  I must say, these were an absolute lifesaver.  What I'd thought would never work, in actuality worked like a brilliant charm.  She was obviously relieved at being able to communicate some basic needs and desires, and we were relieved that we knew what she wanted.  And shortly thereafter, we discovered that the reason for her speech development slow-down was likely due to the emerging skill of walking, which began at 21 months.  Speech came back after that, and we watched those ever-crucial signs accompany the spoken words, then eventually taper off and become replaced by them completely.  And we have always been so thankful for the signs that bridged that gap.

Today I have a guest post from the amazing folks over at http://www.babysignlanguage.com/.  This site is so instructive and comprehensive and free!  Please read their post below, and check out the site if you haven't already:

We love baby sign language. Obviously. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have built a website about it. We built our site to help other parents and caregivers, because we know that baby sign language works. We have seen it in action, and we have reaped the rewards. And we want to share this awesome method of communication with other people, just like you!

So, are you skeptical? Some of us were too. We had aunts and grandmothers and mother-in-laws telling us that baby sign language was a hoax, that it was a waste of time, and worst of all, that it would prevent our babies from learning to speak. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Studies show that baby sign language actually helps children learn to speak, even those with developmental delays. BSL helps in so many ways:

•  It encourages communication. This alone teaches children that they were designed to be able to share their thoughts and ideas with others.
•  It caters to all kinds of learners: visual, kinesthetic, and tactile. Obviously, signing is visual. Signing is also kinesthetic, because it involves the large muscle groups, and lots of movements. And it is tactile because the hands never slow down, and frequently touch each other, as well as other parts of the body. Even the sign for mommy, a popular starting sign, asks a child to touch his chin with his thumb. While it might sound kind of silly to us boring grown-ups, many children find this incredibly fun (and funny!).
•  Signing stimulates the same parts of the brain as speaking does, so using one skill helps develop the other.
•  One study showed that children with speech delays attempted more vocalizations when using sign, than they did when using an image reference system.

But signing with your baby is about more than the distant future. Baby sign language can also help you get through a day! It doesn’t take long for a parent to notice that a child can understand what he or she says long before she can verbally respond. This creates an enormous source of frustration for a child. He hears you say that you want to go for a walk. He wants to put on shoes. He cannot tell you this, and you are strapping him into a stroller barefoot! So, he’s screaming his head off. He knows the word for shoe; he just can’t say it yet. But if he knew the sign for shoe, he would have the motor skills to make the sign, or at least make an approximation of the sign, and you, because you are a genius, would know what his approximation meant, and would go get him the shoes. No more screaming!

Let’s make this as simple as possible. Signing is just plain fun. It is fun for us and it is fun for babies. It gives us another way to bond with our children, another way to play, another reason to laugh, and it quickly becomes a surefire way for your child to earn your praise. With baby sign language, everybody wins. These victories are particularly special when we are faced with speech delays, limited motor skills and speech delays. In the case of some babies with Down syndrome it often reduces stress and gives the baby a venue for expression and parents the comfort of meeting the chore needs of their child. It is also a very effective tool of engagement and integration with older and younger siblings.

So, let us help you! Our site has everything you need to get started, and it’s free! If you don’t see something you need, just ask! We are passionate about baby sign language and we truly want to help you! Happy signing!

This guest post was provided by Sign Language for babies, a website dedicated to early childhood communication with a focus on infant signing. We are also home to a wonderfully supportive Facebook community.


Alicia said...

what a great resource!!!! I was skeptical too! here in Mexico, or at least in my city no one will ever allow you to teach sign language to a kid with any special needs other than hearing problems, i mean, if the kid has the possibility to talk dont sign! the kid will never talk!
so i went to the ndsc congress at atlanta when Elias was 18 months, I have to say that by then Elias didnt had much or any speech other than crying A LOT! so I met several downsyn moms, one of those was Keneddy's mom! Ken, was about 2 yrs I think, and she was signing saying momma she wanted milk and cereal! i though omg! my kid will cry have major tantrum we will go all over stress about what he wants! So I came back home and began looking for sign language online in spanish.. and nothing... then looked for sign language in english and i began signing with Elias, and he began signing to us! everyone around us was very skeptical too! but I didnt cared! we were one happy family with one happy kid who could tell us his needs! and eventually who could tell us what he saw, or what he felt, etc! yes, i agree with you a lifesaver after watching Elias people became more interested but still they think it was a one time thing, this cant be the same to the other kids ... sigh.... i keep recommending it hoping someone will find signing helpful too! :)

gracias for the link!!

Melissa said...

Thanks so much for the link! Jesenia is 16 months and I've been trying to do some basic signs with her. She looks at my hand when I do a sign but she hasn't signed anything back to me yet. I'll keep at though!

mama to j and bean said...

Thanks so much for sharing this great resource! We are really struggling to get my guy to learn some signs but we are pushing through and I welcome any and all resources!!!

Cathleen said...

We have loved signing with Lilly - she signed her first word at 9 months - more - and it has been amazing ever since. At age 2 or 3 her signing vocabulary was 200+. She spoke too but it enhanced what she couldn't say and helped us understand what wasn't yet clear. While we don't use signing anymore as a main form of communication, we still do sign here and there and learn new ones as needed. The coolest thing was when Lilly wasn't interested in learning the alphabet, and we prompted her by teaching her the signs and suddenly she could read, say and sign every letter in such a small time frame. Amazing, just another learning tool.

The best though is when Jon and I sign to each other across a crowded room or when we can't easily hear each other - like signing "milk" or "jacket" and he knows to get whatever Lilly or I need. Love it!