Friday, July 1, 2011

Why Sign?

Recently, someone sent me an email asking why I signed with Vada and if she is hearing impaired. As much skepticism as I have received from those who are unaware of what the benefits of signing with your baby actually are (even to a child who is not hearing impaired) I can not believe I haven't thought of writing about it sooner. So thank you to Sarai for asking. I'll add some helpful links on this subject in the Q and A portion of my blog as well.

Vada is not hearing impaired. As far as we know, from hearing tests that have been done in the past, her hearing is right on target and teaching her "signs" is not something that I do just because she has Down syndrome; I do it because it is extremely helpful once some basic signs have been taught/learned. If I would have known more about the benefits of signing in the past then I would have taught both of my older girls when they were babies as well.

I teach Vada sign language because I want to help her learn to communicate her feelings, wants and needs as soon as she can. Verbal speaking takes the type of motor skills that for typical children are usually mastered around the age of one year and then they just continue to add to their vocabulary as they grow. For children who have Down syndrome and other intellectual set backs those same motor skill can take a considerable amount of time longer to pick up on.

Babies are born with the instinct to communicate. They cry to get their needs met and we as parents learn what each cry means. Even children who are not taught to sign pick up on specific gestures that gets their needs met-like pointing to what they want. Its natural.

Studies have shown that while babies may lack the motor skills they need to verbally speak they still have the ability understand words and their meanings and incorporate them with sign language. Teaching sign language, even if you choose a select number of signs can improve your baby's temperament, help you understand his or her needs and it will allow you to speak with your baby far before verbal language has begun. Imagine your baby telling you that he or she wants milk, to eat, where they felt pain. Imagine if they could tell you that they wanted a specific toy to sleep with verse them screaming and you trying to figure it out. With sign language it's more than possible!

Like I mentioned above, I know that I have skeptics in my personal life. It is evident who thinks signing is a waste of time, ridiculous or even a crutch for Vada.  "Skeptic's" only need to do a tiny amount of research on their own and they too would learn that signing to with your baby creates extraordinary benefits!

It has been scientifically proven that babies who learn to sign also learn to speak earlier than a child who is not taught to sign. Babies who are taught to sign are known to read sooner, have a larger vocabulary's and slightly higher IQ's as well. Which all sounds good to me.

As far as signing being a crutch...well, I just don't believe it. When I teach "signs" to Vada I say the word that is attached to the specific sign as I am signing it.  I do "signs" repetitively and with every opportunity that I get. I can remember with Jasmine, my oldest, who as a baby would point to everything that she wanted. She was my only child who had a pacifier, for us that was a crutch. She never wanted to remove the thing from her mouth, so she'd point instead of talking. Eventually, after I figured out what she was doing I would tell her to not only remove her pacifier but to "say" what she wanted verses just pointing. I think at one point in time all of us parents, in a confused form of frenzy have told our children to "just show me what you want", by choosing to teach sign language I feel as if I am also choosing to motivate better communication skills.

I hope Sarai, that this has answered your question and again thank you for asking it!


Angel said...

We sign with our son Cooper too, and it has been a lifesaver! I can't imagine how frustrated he would be if he didn't have his signs. He does talk quite a bit, but it is not always understandable (he is getting there!) so to have ASL to back it up is so important. He also says every word along with the sign, so I agree that the signs have helped, not hindered, his language development!

Mindy said...

I would love to see the links that you have for more information. Sorry to seem like a stalker, but I am friends with the Terwillegers (from Bethel College) and I started following your blog as he was asking for prayer for Vada's surgery via Facebook. I have been praying for your family ever since. I also have a son who just turned 1 last week. I would love more info on signing with babies. Thanks.

Tricia said...

HI Tara!

I signed with my daughter Hayden. She is three now and still does the signs because she can and not because she is dependent on signing. It is quite the contrary, she speaks very plainly and is easily understood by all she comes in contact with. I agree with all you have written about signing. It is such a benefit to the parents and to the baby. I remember my mom saying that Hayden would never talk if she could get everything she wants by signing. I actually think Hayden spoke sooner because of signing but I have no proof of it. Keep up the great work with your beautiful little ones!