Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Baby Sign Language?

Many times, I have already said that I advocate this. My reason is that it takes away the pressure from a baby to be VERBAL but it lets both parent and baby COMMUNICATE. Being verbal and being able to communicate are two different things, and it is actually appalling that most parents put more premium on a child's verbal development than building a relationship where communication is two-way.

I admit, if I was given a choice, i'd have preferred a child who talked earlier than one who walked earlier. But my reason was because I wanted the child to be able to communicate with me. So imagine the eureka moment when I realized that baby sign language could get that happening without the need for actual words. After all, my son's use of hands were far advanced than his tongue's flexibility. Besides, it was a fun bonding and learning activity for us to be signing and learning signs together.

At 22 months, my son's vocabulary is advanced, in my opinion. And he may not know the names of certain stuff in English and Tagalog but he generally knows a lot by sign (and sometimes even sound). And though we still don't understand him as much as we'd like, it hasn't stopped him from interacting with the world.

Wait... does sign language delay speech development? It may if all you do is sign and not talk to your child anymore. But teaching baby sign language to healthy babies actually require vocalizing the words so it really shouldn't impede speech development.

They say that kids growing up in bilingual families or surroundings may take a little later to talk, but that's because their brains are preparing two different language pathways. But 'a little later' does not mean 'delay'. And studies have actually shown that kids growing up in bilingual homes learn more languages faster when they grow up. And sign language IS a type of language. It never hopes to put a stop to speech development for the healthy child. And for the special needs child, it can be a liberating gift.

There is no expert opinion or study stating or proving that sign language impedes speech development. And in fact, experts are quick to remind parents that though there are childhood development guides (like, a child of two should at least have a vocabulary of 50 words), they are just mere guides. Like what I always remind others who get pressured (partly because of annoying questions from well-meaning relatives and friends), Einstein first spoke at age 4. And he wasn't special needs at all. And yes, there is also no study stating or proving that early speech correlates with success, a love of learning, brilliance, etc in later life.

So am I saying parents with kids who don't talk yet at age two should not be concerned? Of course they should. But I am saying that they shouldn't be worried yet till they've consulted an expert who will tell them if there is anything wrong with their child. Besides, an intentional parent will know if the inability to speak is frustrating the child so much that it's also affecting other developments. A child who wants to speak but cannot will let you know in so many ways that he needs help. But that is a different case from the child who can already interact with his environment to some degree and just isn't ready to speak just yet.

And really, that's where sign language comes in. It's giving your child an alternate way to 'speak' to you, to be more understood, and for faster reaction time. Those with toddlers like me are sure to have spent so many precious minutes wondering what the child is saying leading to more upset from the child. And in the midst of tantrums or sleepiness, a child is less likely to be coherent anyway. And in a crowd where you may not be heard, a quick sign can make a difference even from a distance. Just like a smile, only more specific.

Like what I said, I only wanted to be able to respond to my child which is why I taught him sign language. It was while teaching and learning it that I realized there were more benefits. Sign language requires a lot of eye contact. It taught me and my son to always look at each other (and yeah, we've learned to hold each others' faces when we're not getting the attention we want). Sign language is physical learning, which is how most babies start to learn (why else would they touch and taste everything that arouses their curiosity?), and which, when they find it rewarding, makes them enthusiastic about learning (my son adored his signing videos when he realized that there are so many things he knows that has signs). Sign language makes teachers out of parents, and thus we get imaginative and resourceful on how to help the child make the connection or association (my son learned the concept of dog in 4 ways: through appearance, word, sign and sound). Sign language helps a child to be more specific (how many one year olds can really say words like cereal and crackers and grapes and vegetables?). And sign language creates a sense of intimacy within the family (especially if no one else you know signs).

And then of course, there is the fact that special needs kids get to communicate even with their limitations. So really, how can people scoff at sign language?

Am I saying everyone should learn it? Nope. It takes vigilance to learn, teach and make it work for you. But I am saying that it's a great tool for parents to be more intentional in their parenting.

And what of the videos and seminars that are expensive? I haven't attended a seminar yet but I think the most it will do is empower and challenge parents. But videos can really be beneficial because learning and using signs do not happen overnight. If you can afford other instructional videos or Lamaze classes, why not this, when it's really more beneficial to the here and now? And how about foregoing luxuries like Starbucks frappes for a while? And then again, if you have the internet, you can just learn signs from the instructional videos and literature... and then maybe watch some fun signed songs in Youtube. Sign language really need not be expensive. It's up to you how far you want to take it (am thinking of enrolling in a class and hoping to get Yakee into the Kindermusik Sign & Sing Program).

From all the studies conducted in this field the benefits of introducing your baby to sign language are vast. Baby sign language:

* Can empower your baby to communicate with those around them before they are able to speak. This means that your baby may be able to communicate what they want when they want it. It may also enable them to initiate a conversation about topics that interest them. Furthermore it bridges the gap between no language and spoken language.

* Can reduce frustration for both you and your baby. Sign language may allow your baby to tell you what they want, what’s wrong or what hurts. Therefore your baby may experience less frustration, tantrums and crying. If your baby is able to communicate their basic needs to you, it means you do not have to try and interpret their cries. Sign language can help reduce those tear-filled frustrated moments.

* Can enrich the parent-child relationship. By introducing baby sign language into your home, you are enhancing the bond with your baby. The nature of Baby sign communication leads you and your baby towards responding to each other in turn and this is a really valuable skill. Signing involves daily interactions with your baby that will eventually lead to a two-way conversation.

* Can provide an insight into your baby’s mind and who they really are. Baby sign language allows your baby to initiate a conversation with you about what they are interested in. It allows you to see what they are thinking, what they are interested in and what the world looks like from their view. All this before your baby can talk!

* Can stimulate intellectual development and improve memory. Children are fascinated with sign language and often pay greater attention to what is being taught when it is involved. It has also been shown that when children learn a word in conjunction with the sign, they are more likely to remember the meaning of the word.

* Can accelerate the speech process. Research has shown that children who use sign language may acquire spoken language faster than non-signing children.

* Can enhance a baby’s confidence, self-esteem and self-expression. Due to a baby’s ability to communicate their needs, wants and interests through signing, a baby may become more confident.

* Baby sign language can stimulate brain development and potentially increase your baby’s I.Q. Teaching sign language can stimulate your baby’s brain development. Research has illustrated that signing babies achieve higher scores on future I.Q. tests (up to 12 I.Q. points higher) than children who learn to speak in the traditional manner. Signing can stimulate brain development as when learning sign language you use both the right and left hemisphere of the brain compared to learning a spoken language, which only uses the brain’s left hemisphere. This use of both hemispheres results in the brain building more synapses.

* Children who keep up sign language are effectively bilingual. By introducing your baby to signs from Australian Baby Hands, you are introducing your baby to a second language. Brain research suggests that language skills are acquired best in the first years of a baby’s life. Also, by introducing Auslan to your baby and continuing to use this wonderful language after they can speak, you are giving your child the gift to communicate with the Australian deaf and hard of hearing community in sign language.

Baby Sign Language - The Research and Benefits

Communication is communication. The sooner it is established and nurtured, the more likelihood of a rewarding relationship.

No comments: