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Sign language can help babies learn traditional language quicker, experts say

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 21 2013 07:45:29 AM CST
Updated On: Mar 04 2013 10:56:13 AM CST

Sign language for babies

New parents usually can't wait to hear those first words from their baby.  But what if those first words are delayed? It can cause a lot of frustration for both parent and child.

But some parents have found a solution.

Child development experts say a baby develops motor skills quicker than language skills so they use can sign language instead of words to help a baby communicate.

The technique is used sometimes with children who have speech delays but not always. Some parents just want to get a head start on understanding their kids.

And it turns out all you need is a baby that wants to communicate and a parent who wants to understand.

For two-year-old Faith Owens, using sign language has changed her life. She works with speech therapist Laure Newhard from Easter Seals.

"It's allowed her to become part of the family, It's given her confidence. It's allowed her to get what she wants and not be as frustrated," Laure says.

Newhard has taught Faith about 20 signs for things like "milk," "more" and "eat."

Even Faith's little sister knows the signs now too.

Like any mother, Faith's mom, Cara Owens, wants to understand her child as much as Faith wants to be understood. Cara says, " She definitely enjoys it and feels connected because she loves talking to people."

Faith is speech delayed but experts say any baby and family can use sign language as part of normal language development. For Faith, she is now putting the words with the signs.

Cara says, " I think having something to do physically as well as verbally has made a connection in her brain that words mean something."

Newhard agrees, " It really helps to prompt language from them because you're verbalizing at the same time you're signing. They're making an association. They figure out if I do this with my hands I might get what I want."

She says every once in awhile she will find parents who are concerned that sign language could delay speech development.

Laure feels the opposite is true: that sign language helps children learn traditional language quicker.

Research suggests that using baby sign language may improve a child's ability to communicate and ease frustration, particularly between ages eight months and two years. During this period, children begin to know what they want, need and feel, but they don't necessarily have the verbal skills to express themselves.

Baby sign language allows children to use their hands to bridge the communication gap.

Slightly older children who have developmental delays may benefit, too.

To begin teaching your child baby sign language, familiarize yourself with signs through books, websites, community classes or other sources.

You can also use variations of American Sign Language. Start with signs to describe routine requests, activities and objects in your child's life — such as more, drink, eat, mother and father.

To get the most out of your baby sign language experience, keep these tips in mind:

Set realistic expectations. Feel free to start signing with your child at any age — but remember that most children aren't able to communicate with baby sign language until about age eight months.

Stay patient. Don't get upset if your child uses signs incorrectly or doesn't start using them right away. The goal is improved communication and reduced frustration — not perfection.

Be consistent. Repetition is the best way to ensure your child's success in using baby sign language. Encourage your child's other caregivers to use the same signs, too.

In addition, be sure to continue talking to your child even as you teach baby sign language. Spoken communication remains an important part of your child's speech development.