If you’re a parent, you’ll know that one of the most frustrating things is not being able to understand your pre-verbal child. Communication is one of our most fundamental needs. When your baby cries, you want to understand what’s wrong so you can provide for their needs. Both parent and baby become frustrating with communication blocks.
This is where American Sign Language comes in. Teaching your baby American Sign Language, or ASL, builds a fantastic bridge of communication before your child has the ability to talk. With sign language, your baby use reliable hand motions to let you know when they are hungry, thirsty, full, sleepy, and many other feelings.
One important thing to know is that ASL is different than Baby Sign. Baby sign is a simple set of hand motions that parents and pediatricians developed for babies. ASL, on the other hand, is a language, complete with grammar and logical processes. Baby sign is basically an extremely simplified form of ASL. Many parents use Baby sign for the first few years of their child’s life and then abandon it completely for speech.
ASL holds more benefits for your child than does Baby Sign. If you build your child’s communication foundation with ASL instead of Baby sign, you can transition seamlessly into teaching more advanced levels of ASL.
With ASL, your child can use signing to enrich their communication skills for the rest of their lives, not just as a crutch for their first few years. Plus, daycares and other childcare facilities are more likely to use ASL than informal Baby signing, so your baby will be able to communicate with other caregivers than yourself.
You can start early with your baby—much earlier than you could start with speech communication. In his research, ASL interpreter Joseph Garcia showed that when parents use signs “regularly and consistently” with their 6-7 month old babies, these babies can begin to sign themselves by 8-9 months.
The best part is that you can begin to learn ASL alongside your child. Signing is an exciting journey, and you can bring your baby. It opens up communication with your child that would otherwise be impossible.
Begin with simple signs that mean concrete objects, like “bottle,” “water,” or “more food.” Consistency is the key to teaching your child ASL. You may have to sign for several months before your baby starts signing back, but even before that point, your child is already understanding you!
Encourage your family and other caregivers to get involved in using ASL with your child. As your child gets older, you can keep introducing new signs—even when they begin talking. Contrary to un-researched myths, signing does not slow down your child’s speech development. ASL actually helps your child become accustomed at an early age to communicating their needs and desires with their caregivers.
Explore online resources for information on American Sign Language and teaching it to your child! By faithfully teaching your child ASL, you not only empower them to communicate with you, but also with millions of members of the deaf community.