Friday, August 04, 2006

Sign Language Benefits

Sign Language is undergoing a rebirth as a way for new parents to understand the needs of their hearing babies long before they can talk.

Hearing babies exposed to Sign Language were able to communicate more complex messages through the use of signs than they could verbally.

Sign Language is used along with verbal language to help solidify communication. Just like with Deaf babies, these techniques have be shown to be instrumental in making communication between parent and child soar.

Signs like "stop", "gentle", and "share" help toddlers learn how to play together more cooperatively. And signs like "milk", "eat", and "hot" help babies communicate their needs before verbal language ever enters the picture.

While the Baby Sign Language trend is growing world-wide, some people wonder whether Sign Language delays speech.

Well, I can tell you that Sign Language facilitates the learning of verbal language. My doctoral dissertation, almost 20 years ago, was on Sign Language and the benefits of language acquisition for Hearing and Deaf children. And research since then has shown that teaching Sign Language to Hearing children offers many positive outcomes.

Signing has been shown not only to motivate babies to talk, but a National Institute of Health Study also showed Hearing 8-year-olds who had been signing at an early age had higher IQs, greater self-esteem, higher frustration tolerance, enriched parent-child bonding, and more sophisticated play experiences. Signing babies also displayed an increased interest in books.

Even Baby Einstein, the influential maker of educational toys for babies, has introduced a "Baby Wordsworth" DVD, featuring Deaf actress Marlee Matlin, designed to teach 25 signs to babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Sesame Street, Blues Clues and a host of other child-oriented television shows incorporate Sign Language as well.

I think it'd be great if the teaching of Sign Language could continue beyond the childhood years so that Deaf and Hearing worlds could connect more easily.

Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. ( 2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK. Study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Baby Einstein

BBC News


Tai said...

I don't know very much about it, but I've only heard encouraging reports about baby signing...interesting article!

Godwhacker said...

Hi Deb,
I've been training my new puppy and sign labguage is so important in doing so. Another important thing is body language, which is related to sign language. Any way, another great post!

Dreaming again said...

AHHHH!! You're talking MY language!

I got stubborn in high school of the reasons I refused to go to college right out of school was they wouldn't accept my signing as a foreign language skill when it certainly IS a second language. (the point of foreign language skills!)
Now is accepted. I was just ahead of my time in my thinking. *stubborn grin*

My youngest, developmentally delayed, speech delayed ... his first therapist did NOT want me to use signing with him. She was of the philosophy that it would keep him from wanting to talk, it would be 'easier' (an old and outdated theory ..which was odd, because she was only around 30 at the time).

When my son was 18 months, she left, new therapist entered who was shocked at his total lack of communication at all. IMMEDIATELY that day implemented signing. His communication exploded.

Within 2 weeks, he started to talk. For a year, he refused to learn a word verbally if he didn't learn the sign first, but hey ..we got there!

Granted, the progress was probably faster in our home than others, because I have a full sign vocabulary (not to mention a 7,000 word sign dictionary, if needed) so all I had to do was show him and not learn it myself first.

Signing is an incredible tool!!!

I love to talk to the babies at church who are learning baby sign, using my sign, they recognise the sign and their little faces light up!

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to learn sign language. But the grammar and syntax are a little different from spoken language. And I'm an aural learner, so it's a difficult language for me.

Sarebear said...

My SIL brought my sttention to this a couple years ago. It's worked really well for her baby girl, who signs for "milk" and whom I've never heard cry for it since learning that sign!

You can SEE that the child is less frustrated because they know you understand them.

This is awesome, and if I'm lucky enough to be able to conceive again, we'll be trying this!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Tai,
It is a wonderful language that deaf and hearing can share.

Dear Godwhacker,
Signing and body language with pets are great communicators!!!

Dear Dreaming,
I am fluent in Sign and feel the way you do. I wish it was recognized as a legit language years ago too! Thank goodness it is now.

Dear Anon,
DOn't let being an aural learner make you feel you can't learn Sign. It is a very easy and wonderful language to know.

Dear Sarebear,
I like being fluent in Sign and feel that deaf and hearing worlds would have more in common and less stigma. I hope you get the chance to use this if you conceive again!!


princessdominique said...

I've always wanted to learn it. Especially in college, instead of a second language. Maybe when things slow down I still will.

Fallen Angels said...

Cal sState Colleges accept sign as the foreign language for admittance. I think that is very cool.


Ms.L said...

I use sign langueage with my hearing kids,8 and 13.

Across a crowded room,I can tell them to stop,or quiet down,or let them know I'm going to be out of the room in the washroom or enquire if my little one needs to go,lol after watching the pee pee dance.

It also works well to remind them to use their manners(say thank you)
without embarrasing them in front of others.
There are so many other ways I use sign language daily,it's truly amazing...

I Wish I'd heard about it for hearing kids when they were babies. We didn't start until my son was 7,as part of a homeschooling program I made up for him.
But even at that,it's still had a very positive effect on our lives:)

sjobs said...

Deb-I used baby signs when Kiran came home from Calcutta. She learned signs for "more", "hot", "milk", just to name a few. It was fun watching her pick up on them.

Today, at 5, her vocabulary is very large.

It is great you are putting the word out there about baby signing.


jumpinginpuddles said...

when the twins were little because of their speech problems we used sign language, they sure understood that better than saying it without speech and i believe it helped them to get to the place they are now in their talking.

Moof said...

Dr. Serani, that's very interesting. It makes me wonder if sign language stimulates the same areas of the brain as language does ...

I find it even more interesting that babies can sign more complex thoughts sooner than they can use speech!

Thanks for this post!

wolfbaby said...

it makes perfect sense to me!!!

Sign is a beatiful way to express ones self!!!

now all i gotta do is learn...

Sunnie Dee said...

That was really interesting to read. I grew up signing as one of my sisters was Deaf and my father was partially Deaf.

My mother said that my twin sister and I had our own language and she often used sign language with us to understand what we were on about before we starting speaking properly.

Dreaming again said...

ms.l ... my kids both know the all important signs .. STOP, NOW, QUIET ...

and they both know when my hands start flying ..they've crossed the line. It's my version of yelling at them. They might not understand the words ..but they get the intent.

Now, at 14 and 16, they think it's funny.

and 7 and 9 ...all they knew was Mom is signing and she's not talking ...this isn't good!


healthpsych said...

Really interesting post. I wish I had known about this when my daughter was much smaller, although she's learnt a little bit from school where one of the children in her class has hearing difficulties. Now she's got to teach me!

psychgrad said...

Very interesting topic. Do you think the benefits found among hearing children who learn to sign would generalize to those who grow up bilingual (with any two languages) or is it something particular about being able to communicate before having the oral production skills?

east village idiot said...

wow. thank you for that info. I was wondering if it compromised verbal development. what led you to do your doctorate in that area? how interesting.

drytears said...

My cousin (now almost three years old) learned sign language in her day care, she was taught basic things and they also taught her mom and she taught me because I am her babysitter.

I found that she learned to speak sooner, not later as some fear babies learning sign language may do. She realized that if she had a way to express what she wanted she would get it so she learned to verbalize her resquest much sooner than other children.

The world today is a lot differnt, this same cousin also knows a lot of Spanish from watching Dora the Explorer, she can count, say the colors and common phrases often used in the show, she loves it when I teach her new words in Spanish.

I wish I knew more sign language becasue she still uses that ones she learned eariler and I'm sure if taught more would use them as well. The only ones I know are the simple basic ones all babies are first taught. I also know the alphabet so if need be and I meet a hearing impared person I can still communate with them if there is no translator around, only it will take a while. (lol I learned the alphalbet in middle school as a way to talk to my friends across the class room.)

Excellent post!

Deb S. said...

One day I will achieve my goal in learning how to sign. Intriguing post.

kath said...

hmmmmm.. of course i am used to sign language.. we use it at school..
( and of course i forget myself and use it with my dog at times.. lol)

it is very useful.. and frankly, i think signing is something everyone should know..

i would like to know more.. we use basic stuff..

as for teaching babies to sign? well.. i have never done research on it..but since you have, i will accept what you say.. i have always been rather doubtful of the benefits..

this subject does interest me though..

jane said...

My niece taught both of her kids signing before they learned words. At the time, it wasn't a popular thing to do, so we were really impressed that she'd even think of doing that.
I think it's a great concept.

Donna said...

Hi Deb, I took sign language for my foreign language requirement :)

When my daughter was little, I used the sign for "thank you" to remind her when she needed to say it. That way, she wouldn't get embarrassed to be reminded in front of people.

Dreaming again said...

Psychgrad ... my theory was, and always is ..that it processes in the mind just like a second language ... if you speak sign, you ARE bilingual (IMHO) which is why I got so stubborn in high school. Most colleges (if not all) now accept it as a foreign language because the goal they are trying to achieve is the bilingual effect on the brain ...which, sign language achieves.
(in my unprofessional opinion)

Dr. Deb ...TAG you're IT *running and ducking* (details on my blog, it's about books!)

Hope said...

12 years ago, when my son was an infant, I had been working with several children teaching them basic sign. It became so engrained for me that I used simple signs like more, help, love etc when talking to my son. He picked them up and used them.
Communication is only about 15%verbal the rest being tone,gestures& body language Sign language and gesturing allows children to express themselves prior to forming understandable sounds.
Despite my son learning signs and communicaing well, he never really spoke until 2 1/2 when he came out with words like probably and actually.
I agree that if commercially produced signing is available, it will be positve step in communication.

Andrew said...

My fourteen year old daughter has taken it upon herself to learn sign language "just because." I think it's great!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Princess,
It is a very meaningful language. I hope you get the chance to learn it and experience it.

Dear Falllen,
So great that more schools accept it as a language. It is actually the third most popular language in the US: English, Spanish and American Sign Language.

Ms. L.
I do the same! I also agree that it is a nice way to prompt a person without embarassing them.

Dear Sjobs Mary,
How wonderful that you experienced this with your daughter.

Dear JIP,
Sign is learned earlier than spoken language. That's where the benefit of communcation is. Children who are young can communicate earlier than with spoken language.

Dear Moof,
Sign activates different areas of the brain than verbal language. The Total Communication approach which is to sign and say at the same time enables all aspects of brain to be nutured.

Dear Wolfbaby,
I believe Sign is so easy to learn. I wish more hearing people would learn it so there wouldn't be a gap between Deaf and Hearing worlds. I hope you can learn it too. :)

Dear Sunnie,
Wow, you must have a rich experience in the Deaf world and with Signing. I bet you could teach us all wonderful things.

Dear Dreaming,
My child and hubby now the same about me - when my hands start moving they now trouble is brewing.

Dear Healthpsych,
I am a lover of language and words, and I wish I could be fluent in more languages. I bet you would pick up Signing very quickly.

Dear Psychgrad,
There are many benefits to being bilingual. But it is th nonverbal aspect and spatial quality of sign language that makes the experience different. Being bilingual in two verbal languages is a great thing, but they tap the same brain areas. Being masterful in verbal and spatial/sign language involves greater areas of the brain. Fabulous question!!

Dear EVI,
Research has shown that it does not impair verbal language development. In fact, it aids in the mastery of it.

Dear Drytears,
There are so many places that a person can learn sign language. I hope you can check them out where you live. It can be a very meaningful experience. Thanks for sharing your comments here for us to read.

Dear Deb,
You will. And then we can sign to each other.

Dear Kath,
I bet you get a lot of experience at your work with Sign. It is most helpful. And I know it is hard to trust research, but many different studies over many long years have shown that signing can help acquire verbal language. :)

Dear Jane,
I think it is a great way to bond with your child as well. The touch and modelling can make for wonderful moments.

Dear Donna,
I did the same thing with my daughter. I STILL do that!!!

Dear Dreaming,
I would have been STUBBORN too because it is a second language. And I'll be by later to grab the tag!

Dear Hope,
The way to sign with a baby is to be sure that the signing is also accompanied by the verbal word. This way the TOTAL COMMUNICATION approach ensures that all aspects of language acquisition are learned. I think I would smile so big if I heard your little one say "actually" at such a young age. How cute!

Dear Andrew,
Your daughter is so amazing. I bet the apple didn't fall far from the tree.


Flea said...

Hello Deb,

I don't worry that ASL delays speech acquisition. My understanding of the literature tied to my empirical experience suggests it doesn't.

My only knock on the trend is that parents learn a few signs, dabble in it for a few months, and drop it.

It's a similar phenomenon to another current fad: teaching your child a foreign language that you don't speak yourself.

Without the cultural underpinnings, or the existential need for it as with ASL, a "second language" loses its beauty, power, and even usefullness.



beethoven writes said...

interesting article

alan said...

Saw a hearing impaired guy come into our gym at work a while back and started wondering if that might be another place it could be useful.


dragonflyfilly said...

talk about scyncronicity,.... did i already tell you that i am thinking about doing ASL again?

Alison said...

I'm a lover of language and words too and suspect that signing, as you say, would only serve to encourage the same interest in kids. Ms.L's comment about her kids is great and I now wish I had known about this earlier regarding my own! Never too late?

Josie said...

My daughter is a speech pathologist and she taught her children sign language before they could speak. They could sign "more milk", etc., and it was great because she could understand their needs.

Id it is said...

Sign language was a great breakthrough in human commuication; a tool that made meaning appear in the lives of so many. However, there are many countries in the world, some where I have lived, where sign language is an unknown. I wish there were some way this tool could be made universally available.

Rose said...

I think sign language is so facinating. I think it should be taught that early especially if the child is going to need it.

Raggedy said...

This is a book you may be interested in:

Have a wonderful day!

Dreaming again said...

Dr. Flea, gotta disagree... while I haven't interpreted regularly in 18 years (3 times last spring at church, other than that ..18 years ago)I still use my signing to music as well as my language skills acquired in signing.

When someone asks me what a word means ... I will often first think of what the sign for it is. When I am learning a song, I will think of the signs ..the deeper meaning of the song will be engrained into me because of that.

The beauty of sign language is in it's deeper meanings of words, word pictures and fluid bringing to life of the spoken word.

Just because no one around ME knows the language, doesn't mean I haven't been deeply enriched by my knowlege of the language.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Flea,
I think trends do come and go, but there are some who continue to use sign. The stats for this are small, but those who continue experience enhanced verbal and nonverbal benefits. I don't necessarily agree that not being immersed in the culture of the language means the mastery loses its value. But I like the sharing of your thought provoking comment.

Dear Injured,
Hope you are doing well and feeling better each day.

Dear Alan,
There are many hearing impaired and deaf individuals in the world, but most times we don't even realize they are there. Often, being deaf is not something that is observable until communication is needed. It would be great to be able to offer communication with this person.

Dear Dragonfly,
No, you didn't. How great!

Dear Alison,
It is NEVER too late :)

Dear Josie,
Now, that's wonderful. Infants and toddlers experience less frustration and increased self-esteem with signing. You got to see this first-hand, how exciting!

Dear Id It Is,
Each country has its own dialect of Sign Language. Many signs are the same, but some differ. It *is* sad that we don't have a universal language to communicate. (I think love and care fall into that category and that they can be expressed universally though.)

Dear Rose,
I agree. And it would be really great if we could bridge Deaf and Hearing worlds too.

Dear Raggedy,

Dear Dreaming,
Beautifully said. I feel and experience the very same things.


Rue said...

meh...I am on the fence with this one. My worry would be that the sign language would always be used a crutch for the child. That out of laziness in learning the spoken word they wold keep falling back on signs. On the other hand it would certainly alieviate the stress of understanding your baby for alot of parents!

dragonflyfilly said...

hi Deb, thanks for the comment at my Blog - yeah, i love that photo too, a real-estate friend of mine took me up in his plane, and i was able to get that shot, the house was almost completed and i had already moved out, i think i am nearly at a place where i feel o.k. at having to have let it go.....attachment and all that eh?

Nancy said...

" it'd be great if the teaching of Sign Language could continue beyond the childhood years so that Deaf and Hearing worlds could connect more easily".
That would be so great. Both worlds would learn to appreciate so much.
thanks the info

Dreaming again said...

rue, this is a theory that kept speech therapists from incoporating it with speech delayed kids for quite a while.

(my son came on the tail end of that philosophy)

The reality is, When a child wants to play ball and wants milk, they are not going to put the ball down to sign "milk" if they are able to SAY milk or drink please.

They only depend on the signs as long as they need to. The trick is really to keep the skill going as a second language after they can talk.

Nella said...

My sister-in-law is currently trying sign language with her baby boy only at the age of 6 months. It seems to be working well for her and he is at such a young age but she trys it anyway she is making slow progress but I am sure it will pick up soon for her!

Anonymous said...

The picture at the top of this post just warms my heart so much. How small the baby's hand is and how careful we need to be with those small little people. I wish I'd known sign language when my daughters were tiny. What a gift it would have been to share with them.

Nancy said...

Wow, what a great trend! I totally agree with you that it would be terrific for babies to continue to sign and be able to communicate with hearing impared people. I wish we would have done this with our girls, then we would know some signing as well.

Thanks for sharing this Deb!


mysti said...

I agree with you. If sign language continued through out there growing years and used to help those that are hearing impaired think how wonderful that would be! My twin sister is hard of hearing, it is too bad that we were not taught to sign as children. It is so much easier learning to sign when one is young. We are struggling now. She will eventually lose her hearing. Our family is in need of learning how to talk with her when she does lose her hearing.

Anonymous said...

I have heard about this and I think it's great!

Belizegial said...

Dr. Deb, I am totally inspired by you and everyone blogging here to introduce myself and my two children (14yrs and 8 yrs) to spatial/sign language. Being masterful in verbal language is great but being bilingual in both is even grander.

Belizegial said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Todd and in Charge said...

By the same token, Dr. Deb, don't kids who have affective and other processimg disorders show an unability to understand body language and nonverbal hand signals?

Carie said...

I took sign for a few years in vollege for my special needs students and used it with Ash when she was little and even though I signed I spoke as well and it did help...she was able to ask for things that she couldn't yet verbally ask for...I think more parents should look into it

Leesa said...

I actually saw a nephew sign "more" before he could speak. Way cool!

Dawn said...

i agree. i really think sign language should be offered in schools the same way all other languages are offered to students.

Cathy said...

I have a friend who tried this with her baby and it was amazing...I was going to do the same with my second son, but he has learned to communicate effectively without it, and is using words already at 14 months...but I think it is a great thing.

A Flowered Purse said...

YAY I can read your blog again!!!!!! YAY
Signing I think is excellent, I have seen several people use it and it works wonderfully.
I also saw it in that movie meet the fokkers!!
Im glad to be back reading your blog!! I don't know what happened and why it disappeared!!
Have a great week Dr. Deb

Marj aka Thriver said...

Oh, I LOVE this! Thank you for writing about it. I taught my son "baby signs." These were not American Sign Language, but did wonders for our communication and connection. We also had fun making up our own signs for butterfly, frog, sniff, thirsty, etc. It absolutely LAUNCHED his verbal speech. By the time my son had his two-year check-up at about 26 months, he not only impressed the pediatrician with his words and knowing his colors--he could already tell her that blue and red made PURPLE!!

Marj aka Thriver said...

Got so psyched about baby signs that I almost forgot a reminder. Don't forget: The deadline for the third edition of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse is coming up next week. It is going to travel to a new host blog, but you can still get the details at mine:

Bougie said...

Good Morning, oh btw my baby was finally born go and take at look at her on my blog.

I heard so much about sign language and bought the book for read and try it on my baby. I'm beginning to watch her own body language and sounds of cries to understand what is being communicated. Love this entry.

CrackerLilo said...

I was so thrilled when I first read about this. I'm seven years older than my brother. I sign unconsciously when I talk, like miming an action. I taught my brother to sign that he wanted to eat, drink, play, sleep, etc. It was so much better than just hearing him cry, and we still have our own special sign language. (I remember conducting a conversation with him about what a heavy smoker his mother in law was at his wedding, both of us across the room from each other!)

Babsbitchin said...

I posted on this subject some time ago, in my research on sign and Autism. It is an engaging premise and I would or do consider it as a bi-lingual advantage.I hope you are well, Doctor.

Aidan said...

My newborn nephew came around this evening. I tried pointing in several extravagant ways, like an hyper-active bookie, while commanding "Sit!", "Stay!" and "Heel!" at him, only to achieve absolutely no response at all... where was I going wrong, and is he at least curable...?? ;)

doulicia said...

My younger son's preschool taught signing. Though we started him there after he was talking, he still liked to sign as he said the words.

He also liked that he could sign for more food WHILE eating the mouthful he had!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Rue,
I know it can seem like that would happen, but it never really does.

Dear Dragonfly,

Dear Nancy,
There would be so much each culture could offer the other :)

Dear Dreaming,
Yup, I couldn't have said that better!

Dear Nella,
How fun! Let us know how things go.

Dear Traci,
You can still share with your kids. It's never too late.

Dear Nancy,
I think it is a lifelong language once you learn it.

Dear Mysti,
So many years ago, anyone who was Deaf was discouraged from using sign and so were family members of the Deaf child. Now research shows us that mastering both can offer so much. I hope you and your sister, as well as your family, can learn how to do this.

Dear Tiesha,
I think it is a great way to stimulate language.

Dear Belzegial,
That was so beautifully written.

Dear Todd,
If such individuals are taught sign language along with verbal language it can enhance those skills. So, in essence, it can increase spatial and facial awareness.

Dear Carie,
That must have been a very meaningful experience for you.

Dear Leesa,
That is so TOTALLY awesome!

Dear Dawn,
I think more and more it will be.

Dear Cathy,
It must have been fun to see your friend giving it a try.

Dear Dianna,
So happy to see your face. It was kinds weird that happened with blogger.

Dear Marj,
"Launched" - what a great word to use in describing how sign can help language acquisition!!

Dear T~bou,
I know. I went by and saw your beautiful baby. I wish you and your hubby joy and blessings all around :)

Dear Crackerlilo,
How cute that you sign when you talk!!

Dear Babs,
It is a very useful tool for all children. And research now supports its. So glad you got posted on the subject too. I'm gonna swing by and read that post.

Dear AKR,
You are so funny. You should be giving him kisses hugs and cuddles. You can do the signing way later!!!

Dear Doulicia,
That is such a sweet story.


rdl said...

I wish I trid it with my son when he was a baby. He got everything he needed caveman style by grunting and pointing.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear RDL,
But he got his point made, didn't he?


CrackerLilo said...

A good friend of mine is deaf. She really appreciated my unconscious signing. Because of her, that signed slanguage that my brother and I (and now our wives) use incorporates some actual-factual ASL, too.

Steve said...

Dr Deb,
by virtue of writing for a small Alzheimer's publication for the past 4 years, I have become quite fascinated with brain pathology, physiology, and plasticity. A couple years ago I read something very profound regarding the wiring/re-wiring of the non-verbal areas, etc, of the brain from the learning and use of ASL. I believe it was out of a book that was on the shelf at BAM at the time, but I cannot seem to find it. Can you possibly refer me to a JAMA or other journal article(s)that may support such? Any chance I might be able to look at any possible related excerpts from your dissertation? Anything shall be most appreciated--THanks!
Steve Davis 304) 685-0908/ 8156 Ambersweet Place
Land O' Lakes, Fla 34637