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Suffolk Center for Speech

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The benefits of using sign language for babies and young children

When referring to “sign language”, most people would automatically think of American Sign Language (ASL), which is typically used by those who are deaf and/or hard of hearing. 

What is baby sign?
The term “baby sign” refers to a collection of simplified hand motions/gestures taught to babies and young children to help them communicate their needs and/or wants. These signs are typically based off of ASL, since babies’ motor skills are not yet mature enough to create the intricate signs used in ASL. 

Why use baby sign?
Most babies are able to comprehend speech before their motor systems have the ability to create the appropriate sounds. The inability to communicate can cause frustration for a young child, however, signing allows the child to communicate with those around them to eliminate. 

Will baby sign delay verbal communication?
Not at all! Baby sign actually increases language skills at that point in time, as well as later in life. Studies have confirmed delayed benefits of baby sign such as: more advanced language skills, higher scores on intelligence tests, increased self-confidence, decreased frustration, and more positive interactions between babies and parents. 

How do I use this?
Most babies are able to imitate signs as early as eight or nine months, but the introduction of signs can be used at any point during the language acquisition period. The best way to start using sign with a baby is to model the sign. When you know a baby wants something you’re holding (i.e., a toy), show them the sign for “give me” while saying the words ”give me”. Model it again. Model it as you’re giving the baby the toy they want. Using hand-over-hand modeling is extremely useful as well. 

Signs to begin with:

  • More
  • Mine
  • Give me
  • Help
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Mom/dad
  • Finished/All Done

Resource: Super Duper Handouts #60 & #187 

-Jessica Eberhart M.S., CF-SLP, TSSLD

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