What About Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language sounds ludicrous to many adults, especially young adults, at least before they have babies. But, when they have kids, it sounds much more reasonable to them. When you first hear about baby sign language, like me, you’re likely to say, “That’s completely insane. Why would you teach a baby who can hopefully hear perfectly well how to speak sign language?” 

My Take?

Parents, after they have a baby, say things like, “My baby has been crying for 20 minutes and grunting, and I have no idea if it’s because he is constipated or he is hungry.” 

So, they say, “Why not teach him baby sign language?” And indeed, they learn all these cute little signs about how to say “I’ve had enough ” or “I want more” or “Give me a grape.”

Salon.com says, “It’s an enormous industry. There are classes, there are DVDs, there are books. The Internet has a whole baby sign language universe on it. And, some of the research on the face of it sounds really promising: If your baby uses baby sign language by age 8 their I.Q. will be 12 points higher! 

“The truth is, any gains these babies have over babies who don’t learn to sign are minimal and ephemeral.

“There may be a period of like 2 months where the baby who signed is a little bit more talky than the one who didn’t, but then they’re all caught up by the age of 2 and a half. 

Salon.com says, “It’s a diversion that (the babies) don’t really need. The truth is, a lot of the things that we do with babies, they are often better off left alone.

“This is one of the lessons that parents who have more than one kid eventually learn. 

“You’re totally in your first kid’s face, and you’ve got the whoozit over them, and you’re putting them under the stimulation mobile.

“You’re incredibly in their face the entire time. 

“When you have two kids that is no longer possible, and what happens when you have a second kid is you notice that actually that kid is being ignored, and they’re OK. 

“They’re surviving, and in fact, they’re probably doing a lot more interesting things of their own volition than the first baby was when you were throwing things in their face constantly.

If you want to try baby sign language, that’s fine. Just don’t expect it to have much effect over not using it – at least in the long run. 

 

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4 Responses to What About Baby Sign Language?

  1. Tina Walp says:

    I heard your take on baby sign language this morning on WBCL. I must say that I have to disagree with the comment that baby signing slows communication down. My daughter was born with a complex congenital heart defect. As a result, she has had many surgeries (including 3 open heart procedures) & many lengnthy hospital stays. Because of this, she has some developemental delay. She will be 2 in approximately 2 weeks & is just now learning to crawl, walk, etc. Her physical development is coming along. Her oral communication is also making leaps & bounds, & did so after we began teaching her to sign. This on the advice of her speech therapist. She began with signing what she wants & now she signs AND speaks the words as she signs them. As a mom, I have to tell you its so much nicer to hear (& see) her than to hear her normal, previous “screech.” I have & will continue to encourage parents that I know to teach their children sign language, based on my experience. Thank you!

  2. Dr. Walt says:

    Hi Tina,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. And, I hope you didn’t mis-hear my comments on Baby Sign Language. What I said was, “The advertisors say, ‘If your baby uses baby sign language by age 8 their I.Q. will be 12 points higher!’ I’m not aware of any data to back this claim. One source says, “The truth is, any gains these babies have over babies who don’t learn to sign are minimal and ephemeral. There may be a period of like 2 months where the baby who signed is a little bit more talky than the one who didn’t, but then they’re all caught up by the age of 2 and a half.”

    But Tina, in families like yours, with a special needs child, my guess is that if a study were done that they’d find, just as you have found, that baby sign language can be helpful.

    In fact, I wish we had known about baby sign language when our Kate was a baby. She has cerebral palsy and her verbal communication was delayed a couple of years.

    Hope this is helpful. And, thanks SO much for writing.

    Walt Larimore, M.D.

  3. Helena says:

    Dr. Walt,

    I heard the same comment Tina heard – that baby sign language slows down verbal communication – this morning. I have seen benefits to families with healthy and normal developing children who have taught their children sign language. At a time when the child cannot yet speak, they are able to inform their parent what they need or want, eliminating SOME of the tantrums of a one and two year old.

  4. Dr. Walt says:

    Helena,

    Thanks for posting. Good comments.

    Dr. Walt

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