The sweet sound of your child’s first words quickly turns to constant chatter and then, let’s face it, sometimes you wish they would just hush up for a bit. At least that’s the case with the average child. I know — I’ve had 3 of those. They talked very quickly and learned new words at a pace we could hardly keep up with! They have great vocabularies and speak with above average clarity. It’s wonderful to hear them say “Mama” and “Daddy” and quite entertaining to hear your 3 year old use the word “actually” very appropriately in a 6-8 word sentence. Sometimes we are just floored by their vocabularies that are clearly beyond their years.
When baby #4 came along, we expected the same ‘ole same ‘ole, so to speak, when it came to talking. However, we soon noticed that no real words were coming. We spoke with the doctor and she agreed that we should have an Early Intervention Services evaluation to see just how far behind our baby’s speech was. There was no indication that there were any hearing problems and tests confirmed this. Comprehension didn’t seem to be a problem either. Our baby used a lot of non-verbal communication as well as verbal sounds to communicate with us and was able to follow commands. Things like, “Please go get your slippers” or “Can you pick up the book?” were executed correctly. Pointing and squealing was the favorite method for baby, although this is the one that made us crazy some days. As baby’s frustration grew, so did the frequency and pitch of the squealing. In a stressful situation, this just makes things worse.
We went ahead with the evaluation because we wanted to be sure and didn’t want to risk any serious set-backs that could later impact success with early school years. We first met with an agency representative who collected all of our information and history. She observed us and made an initial determination of whether or not a more extensive evaluation was appropriate. She explained how it works and what services were available in our county, depending on the results. During that initial interview, we were given the recommendation of baby sign language as one tool to help with everyone’s frustration.
It took some time to schedule the in-home evaluation since there was a bit of a backlog of cases. During this time, we decided to check out the recommendations from the agency representative, since it was going to be some time before the evaluation. We did some research about baby sign language, just to understand how it works with babies. Having had experience with sign language since high school, I was quite comfortable with the subject and felt confident that we could handle this. I needed a little brushing up and wanted to understand if there was anything different about using sign language with babies.
I went online and looked at the books available on the subject. Based on reviews, the description and the general quantity of content, I selected the SIGN with your BABY Baby Sign Language (ASL) Kit. With a good foundation already, it was only a matter of minutes before we were practicing signs. We read the recommended approach and decided on the few signs that we thought would be most useful and/or the most recognizable for our baby. We chose to introduce the signs for ‘milk’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’ and ‘water’ first. After giving it some thought, we realized that we were actually already using a sign that we had made up for the word ‘music’. It was actually started by baby and we just picked up using it. Seems that baby knew what we needed all along!
Within a couple of months, we had our evaluation by 2 professionals, one a Speech Pathologist and the other a psychologist, to evaluate all the other areas of baby’s development. This was just before 18 months of age, by which time, baby did have 3 words and had very quickly picked up 2 of the signs! Those 2 signs certainly came much faster than the words did! The evaluation when well and the general assessment was that baby was just on the low end of “normal” and did not qualify for any services. It was great news that we weren’t dealing with significant speech development delays, but there was certainly a lot of work to be done, and we were on our own to do it.
We continued with the baby sign language with great success. The signs were picked up so quickly, it was amazing! Then, in very short order, we noticed that the squealing didn’t seem to be getting on our nerves so much. The more baby could communicate, the less frustration there seemed to be. Just those few signs and successful “real” communication seemed to encourage more of the same and the squealing started to become less and less. Baby was much less frantic and upset or angry when trying to tell us something and this just reduced the stress for everyone.
We moved on to words like ‘hear’, ‘done’, ‘night-night’, ‘hug’, ‘apple’ and ‘banana’. We used them over and over and baby quickly began to recognize them and use some of these signs. As for the forming of the signs, like words, baby cannot always mimic them by the book, so you learn to recognize what baby’s version of the sign is. Just like with speech, you repeat the sign properly while saying the word and respond appropriately to what baby has said. Sometimes baby eventually corrects the sign, but sometimes that didn’t happen. However, it doesn’t prevent us from knowing what baby is saying. Perhaps to speak with someone using ASL there might be an issue, but we can deal with that later if it happens.
We had gotten ourselves to a place where we were fairly content and things were manageable. We weren’t getting screeched at all the time and there was a new connection that seemed to give us all confidence to keep trying. In remarkable short order, we had words coming. We would say words and baby would actually try to repeat them.
Many words and combinations of sounds certainly need some work in terms of their enunciation, but they are recognizable and repeatable. Now, just 5 months later, baby has an impressive list of over 130 words and a variety of signs. The more words learned, the faster the progress. We play games where we just ask baby to say all sorts of words that are brand new and we’re surprised that baby now tries every one with great success. We and the other children provide a great little cheering section and I think this just provides the motivation to keep going. Baby’s eyes just light up with every word.
While our results may not be typical, I can say that we are one family that is convinced 100% in the power of baby sign language. After witnessing it first hand, I would highly recommend it for every baby, not just those who have development or hearing issues. This was such a powerful tool that took us from having a slow talker to one who now has more than the average number of words for a 19 month old. I no longer have any worries about setbacks later on. Sure, every child has their strengths and weaknesses, but we feel that we’ve not leveled the playing field and removed this as an obstacle to future success.
As a side note, there are some added benefits to our family having sign language familiarity. For one, we can still talk to one another in noisy environments or where we are a little to far to hear, but we can see one another. We can manage the kids on the playground without constantly running after them so they can hear what we are saying. They know that they better be paying attention if we are trying to communicate with them. The children have a less intrusive way to ask something important if I am on the phone or in another conversation. And my favorite is that my husband and I can talk “privately” without the children hearing us even though we’re sitting right there with them!
So, if you ever have the opportunity or the need to introduce signing to your baby, don’t hesitate! You should see almost immediate results and the lifelong benefits are many for such a small investment.