Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Like an increasing number of parents, I wanted to make the most of my infant's natural urge to communicate — capitalizing on a window of opportunity in which infant’s gesture long before they talk. Such gesturing is a natural part of any baby's development. Even without prompting, a baby offered food when he is not hungry might shake his head vigorously; a baby whose mother leaves the house might wave her hand.

By actively teaching their pre-verbal babies to express themselves with sign language, parents are taking such gesturing a step further. For example, babies could learn to ask for a book by placing their hands together (palm to palm) and then opening the hands while maintaining contact between the pinkie fingers or to ask for food by rubbing their tummies. (Some baby-signing programs recommend using only gestures from American Sign Language; others believe children should be allowed to create their own gestures.) Babies exposed to true ASL signs regularly from an early age can generally begin using them effectively by 6 or 9 months or younger — even before they can say them, much sooner than those that use mere gestures.

Advocates of ASL believe that its signs are easy for babies to learn and that it offers the additional benefit of being widely known and understood. You want your child to learn another language correctly, just as you want them to speak correctly. You would not teach your baby made up words for things, so why would you want to teach them made up signs? Look for programs that only use ASL, if you want your child to have the highest level of benefits.

Signing provides children with far more than just rudimentary communication skills. Signing can improve a baby's intellect, increase self-esteem and happiness, reduce fussiness and temper tantrums, improve problem-solving skills, and help toddlers get along better with each other. It also strengthens the bond between parent and child, as you are able to communicate effectively with your baby. Signing has also been proven to enhance early language and literacy skills, enabling children to speak sooner and develop larger vocabularies. Some even attribute significant increases in IQ to early signing.

Signing with children with special needs is also very beneficial. Since many children with special needs will have trouble speaking for quite some time, teaching them to sign will lessen the chances of tantrums and frustration (on both sides!). There have been many parents with special needs children, especially those with children with Downs Syndrome, Autism, and Apraxia, saying their child learned to sign and all of a sudden had a language explosion, much sooner than they would be expected to.

Research conclusively indicates that babies who sign tend to have a stronger command of verbal language and often begin speaking at an earlier age than babies who do not sign. Countless parents and caregivers have confirmed these findings with their personal experiences and observations. In addition, many Speech-Language professionals, pediatricians, and educators are supporting the use of signs to encourage early language development.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and reported in 2000 endorsed the contention that signing yielded verbal benefits. "The study showed signing facilitates learning to talk," says Linda Acredolo, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Davis and the report's coauthor. Until age 3, children who had been instructed in signing had an advantage over non-signing children in language development. “The study also found that signing offers an intellectual advantage," says Acredolo. At 8 years, children who were taught to sign were found to have IQs 12 points higher than their non-signing counterparts. The study's authors offer a variety of theories for this apparent benefit. They suggest that the observed IQ advantage associated with signing might be the result of "jump-starting" a baby's intellectual development. They also speculate that the social and emotional benefits of signing, such as higher self-confidence, can have long-term effects on IQ.

When looking for a sign class for your child, make sure to look for the following items:
-ASL background of the instructor(s)
-The program is American Sign Language based, and not mere gestures
-Past class participant satisfaction
-Instructor(s) education level
-Whether or not the instructor has had success with their own child(ren)

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