Baby Sign Language and American Sign Language (ASL)
Baby sign language, also called baby signs, is a variation of American Sign Language (ASL). It uses basic signs that are easy for babies and toddlers to use. Some of the signs used in baby sign language are the same as American Sign Language (ASL) and some are modified for the ease of little hands.
Benefits of Baby Signs
Baby sign language has many benefits. Research has shown that early access to communication can benefit a child’s vocabulary. It can even reduce frustration that occurs in the “terrible two’s” and “trying threes.” A child’s ability to understand language develops much faster than their ability to produce speech. Due to this delay in learning to speak, baby sign language provides communication in a gap where spoken words are either complicated or impossible to pronounce. For example, the sign for “eat” may be used so that a child can tell you when they are hungry. Otherwise they will simply cry as they are unable to communicate their needs. Caretakers may add to baby signs to allow more understanding once they become more savvy with “eat.” They may teach signs such as “banana” or “orange.” Single words morph into sentences.
The Process of Teaching and Correcting Signs
Additionally, as with spoken language, it is important to always use the correct sign with a child, even if the child themself signs it differently. It does not matter if they sign perfectly. The goal is that you understand them. Praise them, repeat the sign correctly, use the spoken word, and then satisfy their need. When teaching speech, a child may say “li·bar·y” instead of “li·bRar·y.” You still say “li·bRar·y” and assist them in learning the correct pronunciation. It is done the same with baby sign language. Continue to show the child the correct sign, with the spoken word, and eventually they adapt and/or use the spoken word. Either way, the goal of communication is happening.
Will there be a Speech Delay?
Some skeptics think if their baby uses sign language they will never speak. This may be the case with some children. Overall, however, it is commonly said you should be careful what you say around a toddler. They will repeat what they hear. If a child is not speaking, they are likely not consciously refusing to speak. If you are concerned a child is not learning speech at the standard developmental pace, seek professional advice to assist each unique child.
Specific Baby Signs
The goal of baby sign language is to provide a fun way to communicate early with your baby or toddler. There will come a time when they sign “cookie,” but you don’t want them to have a “cookie.” So you may want to have other baby signs at your disposal to address this issue before it occurs.
Some popular baby signs: