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Health & Pregnancy

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Look Who's Talking in Sign Language

Jump-Start on Speech


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 saying."

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.

Zero To Three, a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers, says no matter what style parents adopt, they should continue to use their voices when they sign.

"Many babies gesture before they talk. They point. They reach. They do all kinds of things. This is just formalizing the system a little more," says Victoria Youcha, EDD, a child development specialist with the national organization. "I think it's fine, as long as it's enjoyable for both parent and child."

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