Babies & Sign Language

This week's Play Date in the Park is postponed due to the is a great question that came up at our last play date.

“As an SLP, what do you think about teaching babies sign language?”

American Sign Language is a fascinating and invaluable language, and is one that I studied for several years. I have used ASL in many of my therapy approaches with many of my clients. As an SLP, I do not use ASL (or "baby signs") with typically developing children who's speech goals are all verbal. And, as a mother of a typically developing child, I do not use signs with my child.

Using signs does not cause a speech delay, and teaching your child sign language is not wrong. As with any language skill, however, you want to keep upping the requirements. As they are able to do or say more, you should required them to do so in order to get what they want. For example, at first a child may say “mmm” for milk , so you give them the milk. The goal, and expected progression, is for them to start saying the whole word, “milk”. Once they are able to do so, you would no longer give them the milk when they just say “mmm”. You would require them to say “milk!” or even “I want milk!”. The same should go for signs, and that is where I have seen some families get stuck. I have seen many families continue to accept the sign for “milk” as an appropriate request when the child is able to verbally say “milk” or even, “I want milk”. So whatever you chose to do for your child, just keep this in mind: As they are able to do more, you should require them to do more.

BONUS INFO: Whether you chose to use signs or not, most SLP’s I know are all in agreement about one thing….we don't teach the word or sign for “MORE”. The word “more” is ambiguous & can mean anything- more milk, more bubbles, more books, more cookies, more hugs, more kisses, more tickles, more jumping, more swinging, etc (you get the point!). Instead, focus on labeling the actual item or action involved, even if it is just the initial sound of the word.

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