Baby Sign Language: Improves Cognitive and Emotional Development, and Parent/Child Bond

Heather Suhr
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In the United States deaf community, American Sign Language (ASL) is the primary language of communication that includes a complex and complete language structure with the hands, facial expressions, and body postures. (1) When teaching babies sign language for communication, some of the basics of ASL is used and can benefit the bond between a parent and their child.

Some research on baby sign language has been found to improve a baby’s cognitive and emotional development at a very early age. (2) This method has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades and experts believe that baby tantrums can be avoided when there is a clearer communication flow between the parent and child.

Studies reveal that baby signers proved to be ahead of non-signers

One significant research conducted in 2000, published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, compared two groups of 11-month-old babies. One group was taught using baby sign language and the other group was given verbal training. Researchers discovered that the signing group of babies became more advanced talkers than the verbal training group. In addition, the baby signing group demonstrated verbal skills 3 months ahead of the non-signers at 2 years old and continued to be ahead developmentally. (2,3)

The authors of the study followed up with another study when the children were 8 years old. To their surprise, there was still a difference in language development. Signers displayed a 12-point higher score in their IQ levels than the non-signers, even though they had not signed for years. The signers were found to be in the top 25% of 8 year olds, whereas non-signers were considered close to average. (2,4)

Teaching your baby basic sign language

Research has found many benefits of baby sign language, such as “making mothers feel better about themselves by being more ‘tuned in’ to their baby, reducing baby distress, and improving communication between parent and child.” (2,5)

Psychologist Dr. Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon of the University of Stirling, UK, conducted some research on baby sign language and contends that, “Communication is at the heart of child development, be it cognitive, social, emotional or behavioral.” (6)

As early as six months of age, infants can begin learning basic signs such as “thirsty,” “milk,” “water,” “hungry,” “sleepy,” “pacifier,” “more,” “hot,” “cold,” “play,” “bath,” and “teddy bear.” Josephy Garcia, an ASL interpreter explains that when babies are “regularly and consistently” exposed to these signs as early as six months of age, they can begin to effectively use them by their 8th month. (6)

Visual example from Handspeak: Sign Language Online

Here are some tips when considering baby sign language:

  • Begin when babies can hold your gaze for a couple of seconds, typically between six and eight months old.
  • Start with a few words (3 to 5 words) and build your way up, use plenty of eye contact, and verbalize the word out loud. Try linking signs to objects, such as “ball.”
  • Consistently repeat signs and suggest other caregivers, family, and friends to utilize the communication.
  • Take notice of your baby’s development. As soon as they begin to mimic signs (usually after about two months), gradually add more new vocabulary words. (6)

Sources for this article include:
(1) www.nidcd.nih.gov
(2) www.babysignlanguage.com
(3) www.mybabycantalk.com
(4) www.mybabycantalk.com
(5) www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
(6) psychcentral.com

Image source: www.youtube.com

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