Sign language could help baby

November 20, 2005|By CHERYL POWELL | CHERYL POWELL,AKRON (OHIO) BEACON JOURNA

LOOKING FOR A SIGN ABOUT WHAT YOUR FUSSING, WHINING BABY REALLY WANTS?

A growing number of parents are turning to sign language to help little ones communicate their wants and needs before they're able to talk.

There are books, community courses and even references to infant sign language in popular motion pictures.

The ultimate goal of using baby sign language is increasing bonding and reducing frustration among infants and toddlers, said Linda Acredolo, co-author of the book Baby Signs and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California-Davis.

"It's no different from how we feel when we're in France and we don't speak French," she said. "It's the same feeling of being cut off and helpless to get your messages across. And it's a shame if parents don't have this bridge."

Children who know the signs for some basic words - things such as "milk," "more" and "eat" - often fuss less because they're less frustrated, said Pam Lile, an American Sign Language interpreter and educator who teaches courses on signing to babies for Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio.

"It just alleviates a lot of tantrums," Lile said.

Sign language can help bridge the gap between when children start understanding language at about 8 or 9 months and when they're able to begin speaking, usually between 12 to 15 months of age, said Dr. Nevada Reed, a pediatric neurologist at Akron Children's Hospital.

In fact, babies naturally start using their own gestures to get their points across to caregivers, she said.

"From the time they're born, they're communicating with their behaviors, with their facial expressions and their cries," she said. "Many children, by around 9 months to age 1, are starting to use some gestures on their own."

As long as caregivers use the spoken words that go along with the signs, the use of sign language won't stall verbal language development, Reed said.

"It certainly helps the children to get what they want and what they need and to reduce frustration in not being able to communicate their desires," she said. "I don't think there are significant drawbacks with using gestures or signing. There's no evidence to suggest it replaces language, as long as it's being used with language."

Cheryl Powell writes for the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal.

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