Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Communication with Baby

When the twins were babies, we were introduced to the idea of baby sign language for hearing children.  At first I was indifferent to the idea.  I wasn't sure why anyone would want or need to teach their hearing child to sign.  I quickly changed my mind and decided that teaching the twins to sign would be a valuable tool.  Some of the reasons for my change of mindset can be found in this wonderful article, written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas.

Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language
One of the keys to surviving in a tilted economic system in which opportunities to achieve a decent standard of living will be limited is versatility – and the ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience. This includes bilingual ability as well as the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled – primarily the deaf. 
At the same time, a growing shortage of qualified interpreters fluent in American Sign Language has led to more career opportunities – and if current trends continue, it's likely that skilled ASL interpreters will have little problem securing lucrative employment in a society where such a commodity is destined to be in short supply.
Signing Before They Can Speak
A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well. 
This is not as odd as you may think. As you know, many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate. 
In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is innate. An article published in the Boulder Daily Camera in 2003 presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands: 
" 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children 
can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children 
can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces 
frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves 
before they know how to talk." (Glarion, 2003)
The author also cites study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development demonstrating that young children who are taught sign language at an early age actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).
The Best Time To Start
Not only does early childhood education in signing give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.
Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Zionsville child care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of Indiana child care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.

The twins, Boo especially, got frustrated when they couldn't communicate what they wanted ending up in meltdowns and a flustered mommy.  So around 8 or 9 months we purchased some sign language tools from mocoBabies and began teaching the twins signs like eat, milk, finished, cookie, more, bath, ball and others.  It didn't take them long to figure out the sign for cookie and soon were signing their wants and needs.  It made a huge difference to how we interacted with the twins and all but eliminated the meltdowns.  

It was a given that we would sign with Pickle too.  We started much earlier with her, probably around 3 or 4 months knowing that it would likely be several months before she started signing back.  At 8 months Pickle signed "all done/finished"; but, didn't use it consistently.  In fact, she would much rather sit in her chair watching us repeatedly sign in hopes of her signing back, then lean forward in her chair and say "ahhhh duhhhh" (translated: all done).  It's almost as if she deliberately refused to sign and chose her words instead.  We continued to use the sign with her even if she did use her words and now, at  12 months, she is signing up a storm.  She can now sign "all done", "fish", "banana", "milk" and "more".  We're working on "please", "thank you", "eat" and "water" as our main signs.  She's even beginning to string signs together.  For example, this morning at breakfast I had given her a banana which she devoured.  I asked her if she wanted more banana and she signed "more" & "banana".  While the signs were prompted, she still did them in succession; something the twins never did.  

It's wonderful when your child can communicate with you, even though they don't have the words.  As a mom, I hate to see my kids upset or frustrated so any tools I can give them to help them avoid such upsets are tools that important to me.

Here is a short video I took of Pickle.  I was trying to get her to show off her signing repitoire; but, she had other ideas.  I did manage to get her to sign "all done" though.

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