Many speech pathologists who work with young children like to incorporate sign language into speech therapy sessions. Parents and caregivers often wonder if this will slow down speech. After all, if their child is receiving speech therapy services, there is already a concern about speech development.
What is Baby Sign Language?
When people teach sign language to hearing children, it is important to note that children are not exposed to American SIgn Language which is a distinctly separate language. Baby sign language is a focused set of signs that are targeted to improve communication skills. Often, signs are taught a few at a time, paired with a spoken word and an object, action, or food to improve understanding. So baby or toddler sign language is not true sign language.
With that in mind, baby sign language is an incredible tool for teaching language, both for the typically developing toddler and for the child who has delays in communication. Here are 5 great reasons to use sign language with your baby or toddler to help with language growth.
Sign language fosters communication
Anything that helps with developing the give and take of communication is an absolute win in my book. Using sign language means that there are opportunities for turn taking and language learning. In fact, teaching some basic signs to your baby may actually give your child the tools to communicate and produce his first word sooner than without using sign.
Sign language improves cognitive skills
Use of baby sign boosts the child’s understanding and use of representational gesture, a foundation for communication. It helps children tie a symbol (word or sign) to an object, and this is an important cognitive milestone.
Baby sign language boosts social interaction
When I work with a family, we identify important words that a child needs to learn, and then all involved caregivers have the opportunity to use those signs in a socially engaging way. This shared goal provides an opportunity for building social relationships.
Research shows that caregivers who use targeted baby sign language with their young children become more responsive to their child’s attempts at communication, and more responsive overall. Shared interaction and caregiver responsiveness strengthens the bond as the child’s needs are met.
Behavior problems are minimized when children are able to communicate
I’m sure you have heard of the terrible twos. Many behavioral issues are language based. When a child does not have the tools to express wants or desires, this will create frustration in the child. The result is a frantic and harried caregiver who is trying to ascertain what the child wants while the child is screaming and acting out from the frustration of not being understood. There is a clearly established link between language delays and behavioral problems in young children.