A Little About Me and This Blog

I have been a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) since 1987. I am a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association. I have worked in the states of New York, Hawaii and Florida. I am currently in New York State. I have worked in settings that include public schools, special education preschools, hospitals, adult day treatment programs, home health rehabilitation, early intervention and preschool homebased therapy. I have provided evaluation and therapy to people ranging in age from 6 months to 100 years. I have worked with a wide range of conditions and treatments including fluency, aphasia, apraxia, voice disorders, dysphagia, cleft palate, hearing impairment, articulation delay, language delay, augmentative/alternative communication, autism, and many others through the years.
The purpose of this Blog is to share information and answer questions that you may have. I will strive to provide the correct information to the best of my professional knowledge. I may not share the same professional opinion as other licensed speech pathologists and I encourage second opinions if you want to be as informed as possible.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Using Sign Language With All Babies and Toddlers

   Think about the natural gestures we all use. We wave to say "Hi" and "Bye," nod our head for "Yes," shake our head for "No," shrug our shoulders for "I don't know," and clap or high-five when we like something.  These are a few of the universally understood natural gestures we use and even teach our babies. The reason we naturally teach these gestures to our babies is because we know they can imitate and attach meaning to these gestures before they are able to use the words. We are so proud when they wave or shake their head "Yes" for the first time around 9-12 months of age. The babies eventually learn the words that go with these gestures, but they are able to communicate with these gestures much earlier. This is the concept behind teaching your babies and toddlers sign language.  They can imitate hand gestures for patty-cake, peek-a-boo and the words mentioned above. If they can do this, let's give them even more words they can communicate with as they are learning speech. Trust me, a normally developing baby will not use signs learned instead of the spoken word. They will generally use the signs, pair them with the words as they are learning to speak, and eventually only use the signs when they can not be understood or when they are exaggerating their message. Wouldn't it be great and less frustrating to know what your baby wants  before he has the words to verbally express himself?
     You will not be trying to teach your baby to speak in fluent sign language using a sign for every word.  The idea is to choose words you are naturally teaching your baby as he grows.  Some of the first signs would be for the following words: eat, drink, wet, dry, nite-nite, mommy, daddy, help, more, done, out, ball, cookie, etc.  These are the words that have meaning to them and should be helpful to you if they can express it.  Other signs to teach would be for objects that are in your baby's world.  Favorite toys, people, pets, and activities are good ones to teach. Use books and label the pictures verbally and with a sign. As you expand your child's sign language vocabulary, you are naturally helping to develop their speech and language skills.  You are always using the spoken word at the same time you are teaching them a sign, using the sign yourself, or reinforcing their commuinication attempt when they sign by saying something like..."Oh, you want your ball...here's your ball," while you also sign "ball."
     The use of sign language and the spoken label at the same time is part of an approach often called Total Communication.  This approach is often used with hearing impaired children and children with special needs such as Down Syndrome, autism and other conditions that may include a delayed speech and language component.  It allows children to increase expressive communication as they grow and learn faster than their speech and expressive language can keep up.  It is also a way to provide children with a way to hear and see a message you are trying to get them to understand.  Some children learn more visually and may miss the message if it is only spoken to them. Some children with early delays will continue to use signs and speech in combination to make their communication more effective. These children will usually be receiving speech-language therapy if they have been identified with a delay as a preschooler.
   In the case of a normally developing child, they can understand things much earlier than they can express them verbally.  They express by crying, gestures, sounds,touching what they want or having a tantrum when they can't make you figure out their message.
   It is fine if you and your immediate family are the only people who understand your baby's signs.  It would be wise to let any babysitters know the basic signs the baby may use as well.  The general public may not understand what you baby is doing, but you will understand him and, after all, isn't that the goal?
     There are many books and programs for getting started teaching your baby sign language such as this one: Teach Your Baby to Sign: An Illustrated Guide to Simple Sign Language for Babies. I have included many of them  in the Communication Corner Store on this site.  Click on the banner above and go to the category titled Sign Language to check out ways to get you started.  You can learn along with them!


  1. love this post.. I am a firm believer in teaching babies to sign.. then again.. I have been involved in the deaf community for many years and if my children had not signed they would not have understand most of my friends. I taught my children and other children to sign.. not instead of but included as part of "Total Communication" and it really is wonderful how much earlier children are able to communicate with a few simple signs than with speech. Once the communication door is open it is amazing how much everyone learns and how much more fun you can have with each other.

  2. Brenda, I am writing a research paper on the benefits of teaching young children sign language, and I am having trouble finding a "credible" source (this research paper is for an English assignment). Are there any research papers or scholarly articles or websites that you recommend I use?

    1. Hi,
      This is a link to our national organization that we get our certification from. Browse their articles for ones that are related. You can not get more reputable than the source of our profession. It is called the American Speech and Hearing Association. I hope you are able to get this reply. I was not given an email to send my reply to. Good luck on your project.
      http://search.asha.org/default.aspx?q=Sign Language