This topic is near and dear to me as I am a signer of 15+ years. I taught myself the ASL alphabet when I was a teenager and took ASL I and II as a Deaf Studies major in college. I went to Gallaudet in Washington DC for graduate school, which is a university primarily for deaf/hard-of-hearing students. You were required to use sign language in all public/common areas of campus. I found the mini island of Gallaudet to be magical and full of a culture that many people aren’t aware even exists. I felt lucky to be there and immersed in ASL every day.
Classes discussed the benefits of sign language, of course, at a deaf/HOH university whose primary language was ASL. However, when it comes to children with speech and language delays, where do I stand? Is sign language necessary? This is a debate for Deaf, HOH, and hearing children. For the sake of simplifying this blog, however, I’m going to focus on children with typical hearing that have a speech and language delay.
The short answer to, “Should I sign with my child?” is YES! Always, yes! The way I look at it, even for children with NO speech and language delay, is that acquisition of a second language is nearly always beneficial! Sign language is another language, and ASL specifically, has its own grammar and syntax compared with spoken English.
Here are reasons why you should teach your baby to sign:
- Ease of language acquisition at younger ages; children’ brains are sponges!
- A way to communicate months before spoken words occur
- Research supports increased IQ at later ages
- Additional bonding with your baby
- Supplemental language for a delayed child
- Decreased frustration when communicating
- Decreased tantrums
- Increased visual attention and fine motor skills
The most common question I get from parents with a delayed child is, “Will signing keep my child from talking?” Easy answer: NO! Your child will learn to talk, and often, signs start to drop at this point. In particular, they drop if you were using them to supplement spoken language. However, I always encourage my families to continue signing; it’s another language! Just because you are signing, doesn’t mean you are not speaking at the same time. Signing, “Play ball” can be labeled verbally as “Play ball.” This way, your child is seeing AND hearing language.
Votes are in; it’s time to start signing!!