Jun 25, 2014 Post By: Children's Health

Baby Sign Language and Speech Therapy
New mom Ashley Burton has started using baby sign language to communicate with her baby, Benjamin. Do you use baby sign language with your little one?

One of the most common challenges I’ve faced since becoming a mom to Benjamin last October is trying to determine what he wants.

Is that an angry cry or a hungry cry? Is he cranky because he needs a nap or is he teething? Does he want more food, or is he done? You get the picture.

I imagine it will get a little easier as he becomes more verbal over the next few years, but until then, what’s a mom (or dad) to do?

What is baby sign language?

Enter baby sign language, a relatively new phenomenon, gaining mainstream popularity in the past three decades.

However, William Dwight Whitney, an American Linguist and Yale professor, first recognized the opportunities presented through sign language in the 1800s. He noticed that babies in households with hearing-impaired parents as young as six months old were communicating by signing with their parents.

Jenna Davis, a Speech Language Pathologist at Children’s Medical Center, says baby sign language can encourage speech development, increase communication and reduce frustration for both you and your child. But how does baby sign language work?

When to start baby sign language

She recommends starting with about five signs related to family members (mom, dad, brother, sister, etc.), food (more, all done, milk, eat, etc.) and/or activities (play, toy, sleep, etc.). Once you get comfortable, here are 21 words and signs to know – baby sign language basics, if you will.

Ashley Signing to Benjamin
Ashley teaches baby Benjamin the sign for "more."Though most children may not have the motor skills and coordination to sign back until they’re about eight to 10 months old, Davis says parents can start incorporating simple signs in their daily routines as early as they’d like.

As you speak words throughout the day, make the sign with your hands at the same time so that your child will learn to associate the sign with the word and begin to understand the context of each word.

Another good time to teach baby sign language is during playtime. With your child in your lap, hold their hands and help them make various signs as you say each word. Be patient. Your child may begin to understand the signs before they can actually perform them, so be consistent and have fun!

Baby sign language is not just for babies

Baby sign language can not only empower babies to communicate early, it can help increase self-esteem and build language skills in older children who may be non-verbal.

As a therapist, Davis says the use of sign language has helped decrease problematic behaviors, such as tantrums, in patients, as well as provided others with a way to communicate their basic wants or needs.

Do you and your child use baby sign language? What tips do you have for parents (like me) who are just starting the process?