Look Who's Talking in Sign Language
Jump-Start on Speech
Sophia Jordan began uttering her first words when she was 9
months old, her mother says. At 11 months, she was able to say lawnmower and
broccoli. By age 1, her vocabulary consisted of 15 to 20 words.
"We know already the more language a baby hears, the faster
it learns to talk," Acredolo says. "The baby signs are pulling language
at earlier stages from the parents, and the baby is choosing the
Her study, which included 103 children, also found that six
years after children had learned signs, they continued to outperform their
peers. Their mean IQ was 12 points higher than those who were not raised with
gesturing, according to her research, conducted with co-author Susan Goodwyn,
"The reason to do baby signs is not to raise your baby's
IQ. It is not to make them talk earlier. We feel the main goal is to smooth out
the interaction between parent and child, and make that time of life much more
pleasant than it would normally be," Acredolo tells WebMD. "Baby signs
allow the baby to express what its needs are, what it's thinking about, and
what it wants to share with you. It just makes life a heck of a lot
Monica Beyer says sign language quieted the noise level in her
house. She began teaching her son, Corbin, to sign when he was 11 months old.
Soon, the movement of his hands replaced the screams he used to express his
wants. Now, at almost 2, Corbin knows about 60 signs, stringing two or three
together as though speaking in sentences.
"Just knowing that he can communicate what he wanted really
made our lives a lot happier," says Beyer, who now teaches signing to
parents in St. Joseph, Mo. "It is just amazing to see their little hands
going, and the delight you see on their faces when you understand what they are
Like Jordan, Beyer began teaching her son with the sign for
"milk" -- a squeeze of the hand as though you were milking a cow. They
both used American Sign Language gestures - a style recommended by Joseph
Garcia, a researcher and author of Sign With Your Baby. Garcia, who
began studying baby signs in 1987 as part of his master's program at Alaska
Pacific University, says he prefers using a standardized language to making up
signs in order to maintain consistency. Once baby signing becomes more
widespread, he envisions babies being able to communicate with a variety of
caregivers, from teachers to sitters.
"Uncle Bob can come from New Jersey and have the same
signs," says Garcia, who has developed a signing kit for parents to use
with their children.
However, Acredolo recommends making up signs so that parents
don't have to learn another language. It is easier to invent your own gestures
and sign what comes naturally, she says, than to run home to look up
"caterpillar" in a book after your child spots one on the playground.