Over the past 10 years, there has been a new trend to teach babies sign language. The theory is that babies can learn to sign before they can speak. There are many different DVDs and TV shows that help with this. Parents want to teach their babies to be able to communicate their basic wants and needs through common early signs like more, please, eat, and drink.
How can this popular trend help children with speech delays though? Is there a benefit to continuing to teach your children to learn American Sign Language past just basic needs? Is there any harm in teaching a child with speech delays to sign? Let’s tackle some of these controversial questions. First let me say I am not a professional, but I have done research on the topic. My kids all know American Sign Language, and my husband and I are close to being fluent in ASL. If you have any concerns about your child’s speech and or hearing, talk to your doctor.
How can learning sign language help a speech delayed child?
The obvious reason is sign language can help alleviate frustrations as children are trying to communicate with you but can’t. I have personally seen a child light up as they are beginning to learn sign language and can finally communicate with their parents. Start with teaching the basic needs signs and work towards more conversational signs. If your child has normal hearing, continue to speak to them as you use the signs. Encourage them to continue trying to say the words as well.
Is there any benefit to teaching my child to learn American Sign Language past just basic needs?
In my opinion, absolutely! There are always benefits to teaching your child a second language, and ASL is no exception to that. When our oldest son was in second grade he was chosen to be in the Math Bee. He was so excited. We were invited to come and watch and cheer him on. When we got there he was on the other side of the gym and it was quite loud. There was no way we could try to talk to him. We were able to use sign language to tell him we love him and are so proud of him. With sign language you can easily communicate in a loud crowded place as long as you can see each other.
Teaching your children a second language starting at a young age is a gift you can give them they will always have. It stretches their thinking and challenges them in language skills. A second language often helps them to get a better understanding of their first language.
Is there any harm in teaching a child with speech delays to sign?
First, let me say again I am not a professional. Always listen to your speech therapist. From what I have seen, many children will learn how to speak after learning to sign. I have seen a few children who learned American Sign Language first and then learned spoken English. I personally have not seen any harmful effects of teaching ASL to a speech delayed child, but again I am not a professional.
So where do you start?
There are so many amazing resources our there to purchase and some for free online. You can use DVDs, flash cards, books, or internet sites or a combination. I love ASL flash cards. They are a wonderful way to teach your child while always spending quality time together.
As with anything the more you use the signs the more your child will pick up on them. So give it a try and start signing. You’ll be amazed at what your baby can do!