Baby Sign Language
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Believe it or not, I bet I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if it’s worth your time to read a blog about hearing. I get it; there is a ton of information out there, and your time is precious. Is hearing really all that interesting? Trust me when I say you’ll be glad you clicked this link.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Claudia Hensen, a direct decedent of the 19th century anatomist who first described Hensen cells. (They are tall supporting cells, located in the inner ear, involved in the hearing process.) I’m all about hearing; it’s in my genes. So join me twice a month as I take you into a world that’s more wonderous than you could ever imagine. Come with me today as we learn about baby sign language.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend and her two-year old son, Mason. I arrived just in time for lunch. Mason was having his favorite noontime fare: chicken nuggets, tater tots and applesauce. When he finished the tater tots, he put his fingertips and his thumbs together to form flattened O shapes. He then tapped the two Os together. “Okay, I’ll get you more,” his mom said. Mesmerized, I asked what had just happened. “He’s using baby sign language,” my friend explained. “He just signed the word ‘more.’ They teach it at his daycare.” It was adorable to watch.
On my way home I began thinking about what I had witnessed. Mason can speak and hear, I mused, why teach him sign language? I went straight to an expert for the answer: Susan Dillmuth-Miller, Au.D., CCC-A, FAAA, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at East Stroudsburg University.
Dr. Miller explained that baby sign language is a way for children to communicate with their parents before they can talk. Unlike American Sign Language that uses full sentences and it’s own grammar, it is a separate signing system that uses single words to promote an idea. “Parents use words like eat, drink, milk, more, sleep, hurt and diaper,” she says. “They teach it by pairing spoken language and signing in context. For example, while pouring milk, the parent says the word ‘milk’ then signs the word. Most babies can begin signing about seven months before they can talk. I’ve even seen some babies sign who are 5 ½ to 6 months old.”
The primary benefit of teaching baby sign language to hearing kids, Dr. Miller says, is reducing frustration for both the parent and child. A parent doesn’t know what a crying baby wants. Does she want a drink? Does he have a stomachache? A baby who can sign his/her needs makes for a much happier, less stressful situation.
Dr. Miller adds that it’s also just plain fun to be able to sign with your baby. “There isn’t much research on baby sign language and actual language development in hearing children, but we do know gesturing helps little ones learn to speak,” she says. “There are lots of Websites for parents who are interested. It’s fun and a wonderful way to bond with your baby.”
Dr. Miller recommends the following Websites.