I mentioned in an earlier post that we plan to use sign language to help Connor commuincate in the months leading up to actual first words. Baby signing is still fairly controversial. A lot of people will tell you that it hinders speech, that it will make a baby speak later and use less words because they depend on sign language to communicate. At first glance this makes sense, but the farther you dig into the research the more it makes sense to use sign language to start the learning process of how to communicate.
First, the big thing that people miss is talking while you sign. I'm not trying to teach him how to say "more" with his hands, I'm trying to teach him to say "more" in any way I can. A parent should NEVER use sign language instead of spoken words. The word should always be used with the sign.
Now that that's out of the way, here's the basic logic. At around 7 months or so, a baby understands the basic concept of communication. He will raise his arms when he wants to be held, he will point to a toy that he can't reach, and he understands much of what you say to him. He understands that people communicate ideas to each other through words and physical gestures. But if he is hungry, he has no way of telling me that. If his tummy hurts, he has no way to tell me that. If he's bored, tired, uncomfortable, in pain, etc. This is very frustrating for a baby, and it's the cause of a lot of crying at that age before they gain the ability to verbalize.
By teaching him a few signs (more, food, milk, play, diaper, mommy, daddy, etc) that he will use every day, we bypass that frustration. Now he can tell me what he wants. Of course I will constantly use spoken words and encourage him to do the same, but without that frustration in the way, he can pay more attention to learning how communication works and less time crying about not being able to get what he wants or needs.
To sum it up, babies who sign not only speak earlier than non-signers, they experience less frustration, develop larger vocabularies, become better readers, and even have IQ’s that are at least 10-12 points higher. There was one study that used finger signing (using letters only) with school aged kids who had trouble with spelling. Within months the spelling scores for the kids in the program went from D averages to B averages. Signing triggers different parts of the brain in order to work. Basically a baby learning sign language is learning how to learn.
Here are a few websites about baby sign and the benefits. There is a link to an ASL browser in the sidebar.
This is a really neat video of a baby signing. I can't get it to embed because blogger is arguing with me.
And, of course, a new picture of Connor in a super snazzy all-in-one diaper.