Special Report: The power of sign language


CENTRAL TEXAS – As parents know, communicating with your baby is no easy task. When the crying starts, we often go down our list of: Are they hungry? Do they need a diaper change? And when all the items are checked and the crying continues, well that can often be frustrating.

“If we give them a way to communicate you can see those tantrums and those fits decrease,” says Emily Kroll, Speech Language Pathologist at Grace Therapy and Educational Services.

This is where baby sign language comes in.

“Teaching your baby sign language has become such a popular trend now-a-days you can use signs to communicate words such as like fish, flower or spiders, but you can baby sign everything,” says Dr. Vijeta Salunkhe, Baylor Scott and White McLane Children’s Hospital.

Relating any kind of gesture to a word can be considered baby sign language.

“So for example, if grandma comes over and every time she comes over she kisses the baby on the cheek, so the sign for grandma could be tapping on the cheek, something as simple as that,” Kroll says.

Baby sign language is completely different from American Sign Language or ASL. Baby sign doesn’t have any rules, any gesture can be paired with any word. But ASL is the official language of the deaf community. It has the same linguistic properties as spoken languages and its own grammatical structure.

“You have to be careful because sign language can mean several things. Baby signs could potentially mean, it may or may not relate to language acquisition. American Sign Language is actually a language and language acquisition, they are looking to learn language,” says Dr. Lewis Lummer, Senior Lecturer of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Baylor University, Interpreted by Mrs. Lori Wrzesinski.

Expert say your baby can start learning any kind of sign at around six months old.

“They use these signs instead of words because physically they can’t produce the words yet so it kind of gives them a way to communicate with their parents,” Kroll says.

“If you are signing with kids it actually counts as a second or even a third language and helps build the synopsis in their brain which actually is really amazing,” says Lauren Carney, Owner of Blooming Tree Preschool in Belton, TX.

“There was a longitudinal study, it was about a 10 year study I believe or maybe 20 years, these were hearing children and they were from birth to age 5 they had one particular group that was exposed to sign language, the other wasn’t. The one that was exposed drove off the charts in terms of language development, so it really had a positive impact,” added Dr. Lummer.

Though teaching sign can be beneficial to a child’s development, Dr. Vijeta Salunkhe with Baylor Scott and White McLane Children’s Hospital says it only works well when we use both sign and speech together.

“If someone wants to learn sign language, it’s a great way, its another language but I would caution parents that it shouldn’t be intended to replace our complex languages or it shouldn’t be intended to replace the talking, so always talk to your child, at the same time you can also make signs,” said Dr. Salunkhe.

Consistency is key.

“I would say very consistent because it’s just like words, with words, a child has to hear a word up to 50 times before they even start to attempt to produce it, so think of that kind of with the signs they have to be very consistent,” said Kroll.

Some people say it’s disrespectful to the deaf community to teach one over the other.

“I would definitely advocate immediately start signing with the child from birth on, so those developmental years are very important,” said Dr. Lummer.

Although baby sign language would be easier on the parent, some believe American Sign Language is the correct way to go.

“One of my biggest reasons for teaching ASL instead of baby sign is the deaf community. It’s their language and we have to learn to respect it,” said Carney.

Carney says she only teaches her kids ASL because baby sign is offensive to the deaf community.

“Just because I was an interpreter and I’m very passionate about doing what is correct,” said Carney.

But, speech pathologist Emily Kroll says that’s one of the reasons parents decide not to teach their baby sign.

“I don’t want parents to get scared from baby sign language because they think that they have to learn American Sign Language,” said Kroll.

She says as long as it’s consistent, teaching a baby either can only help their development.

“So it never will hurt your child’s development. So if your child is typically developing, you can still use it to elicit that language and promote that language, it never hurts them,” said Kroll.

Both encourage parents to research before teaching your child sign, to make sure you are actually learning from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

“You also have to be careful. There’s a lot of resources, a lot of YouTubers who don’t use proper sign language or proper ASL and they call it ASL,” said Carney.

“Other health care professionals can do it as well, other therapists because they have that background in child development, but yeah it shouldn’t be just anyone,” said Kroll.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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