Signs of early communication

Over 5 years ago, I was having a difficult time dealing with my 6 month old. She seemed frustrated more than most babies her age, and I couldn’t figure out why. Sometimes I thought it was her ears (she was having ear infections and ended up with tubes at 11mos) but other times, nothing I did solved the frustration… which led to my own discouragement! One afternoon, I saw Debra Messing on Ellen discussing using sign-language with her 11 month old… after a few jokes from Ellen, Debra went on to discuss how much it helped ease the frustration because babies actually have the cognitive ability to communicate long before they can verbally speak words.

I was intrigued. If this could help my daughter & I break down a few walls, start to communicate & understand each other now, that would really help both of us get through this stage! How often have we looked at our crying babies and thought “if only you could TELL me what was wrong!”

I went online, verified this to be true, then went to amazon.com and ordered this baby-sign book. When it arrived, I skimmed it quickly and started doing some need-based signs I learned in the book with my daughter. Please, thank-you, more, milk, eat, all-done, hurt, sleep, Momma, Daddy, etc. I figured this would be a good place to start, since our frustration seemed to be rooted there.

The hubs didn’t want to discourage me, but I don’t think he truly believed this would solve anything. He simply believed she was a baby: they cry. True, but babies do cry because they need something. The hubs did the signs sporadically, whereas I did them consistently while speaking the words in context – for example, holding a bottle of milk, while signing & saying please & milk. But, because we weren’t being consistent, she didn’t get on board right away. In the meantime, we started to get laughed at by a few “loved ones”. I had one friend who freaked out “You’re signing with her? You have to talk to her! How else will she learn to talk?!” I had to explain to her how babies have the cognitive ability to communicate, blah blah blah. She still didn’t get it. She had a son, but never heard of baby-signs and was very skeptical. The thing that got to me was how judgmental she was of me, just because I wanted to try a new parenting trend that was a little outside of the box. Even though I knew we weren’t raising a mute child, it bothered me that family & friends weren’t more supportive… felt like the losing battle I had with breastfeeding all over again. But in my heart, I felt like we had nothing to lose signing while talking to our baby. We’ve tried everything else, why not try this?

But, time passed, and around the time my oldest turned 10 months, I was starting to give up on signing altogether, joining the skeptic-bandwagon; if she hasn’t gotten it now, maybe it IS pointless. But then, it happened: she signed PLEASE… then more… then milk… all within a couple days. Holy shit! She’s been paying attention! And she’s using the signs in context!!! My daughter’s a genius! A month later, she was really using the signs, and by the time she turned 1, she was speaking some of the words WITH the signs. Instead of crying to get what she wanted, we would say “How do you ask for something?” and she would sign “Please” instead of screaming for a certain toy or whatever she wanted that day.

 

It was life-changing. Like a light-bulb flipped on and it was smooth sailing as far as communication goes for awhile. I gained a little more confidence as a Momma as my oldest started speaking in sentences sooner than many other toddlers her age, and our frustration in general eased up quite a bit. Pictured: my oldest signing “Please”

When my 2nd daughter arrived, we didn’t hesitate to start signing with her around 6 months. This time, I had an iPhone app with more signs than the book, which I had already passed onto friends. Plus, I had more support so it was easier to be consistent, and any negative feedback I received, I ignored! The friend I mentioned above… not really close anymore. Go figure. Anyways, my youngest started signing even earlier than her sister; she is a lot more laid back and seldom cried, but this was still a fantastic tool for the whole family. Even her big sister could sign & speak with her; it was an excellent way to let my oldest know that she was one of her sister’s teachers too. My youngest is now 2 years and 4 months old, clearly speaks full sentences, and still uses some of her signs, while speaking the words. My 5 year old has been reading & writing/spelling words since around the time she turned 5. Does the signing we taught her as a baby have anything to do with her reading earlier than her peers? Possibly. 

I realize doing baby-signs with your baby or toddler is not teaching full-on ASL. I was told by an interpreter friend of mine that teaching true ASL does mean signing ONLY. We didn’t intend to teach full ASL, we just wanted to communicate with our babies; I can’t imagine trying to teach signs to a hearing baby without verbally speaking the word, but, I’m not an interpreter… and I’m definitely not an expert, I’m just sharing what worked for my family. Maybe it’ll work for you too! 

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4 Comments

  1. Posted July 7, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I have actually just busted out a book that my Mom got us for Natalie with a few signs. Thanks for the encouragement to get moving with it. So glad it worked for you guys!

  2. Posted July 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    That’s great, Carla! It won’t happen overnight, but if you’re consistent & patient, it will happen. BTW, if you have an iPhone, that app I mentioned is very helpful because it has videos of a lady actually doing each sign.

  3. Posted July 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Awesome Kelli! I am so glad that your girls have another way to communicate and that this works. Perhaps you’ll even get me and my lazy hands working. (hope so!)

    Good post.

  4. Posted January 6, 2011 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    I love baby sign language. I didn’t even know about it with my oldest two children and just waited out the tantrums. With my 3rd I was watching PBS when signing time came on and I started us on our sign language path. It really made a huge difference in the tantrums. I only got into it enough to do need based sign language and was mocked by those around me for doing it.
    Now with my 4th child I am using it more consistently. In less than a month he has learned thirsty, hungry, up, want, milk, and more

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    Kelli Williams

    Kelli Williams

    Keeping up with 2 little girls, writing assignments, music gigs, the house, laundry, ETC, backwards, wearing ass kicking boots and a smile, without spilling my beer. Ok, ok, so I spill my beer, but my floors have never been more germ-free since I started putting a little alcohol on them. Who needs ammonia...

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