Baby sign language: A helpful communication tool

Babies can learn and use sign language as a life skill, enabling them to benefit from its communication advantages.

In previous articles, Michigan State University Extension educators identified sign language as a beneficial life and career skill, but some may be wondering at what age can a young person begin learning it? Can a baby learn sign language? The answer is “yes;” regardless of whether or not the baby is hearing-impaired or non-hearing, using sign language can help them to communicate effectively even though they may not have mastered verbal language yet.

Another question to answer is when can a baby learn sign language? In an article on BabyCenter, Pediatrician Howard Reinstein of Encino, Calif. and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Most babies have the physical dexterity and cognitive ability to learn some form of sign language at about 8 months.” states supports this claiming, adding that:

  • Teaching babies and sign language can begin as early as 6 months
  • Some baby sign experts generalize that baby sign language is introduced between 6 to 9 months
  • Between 6 and 9 months, an infant will typically use their first sign

On Baby Signs, Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Golden conducted a study on babies who were taught baby sign language, known as “signers”. As a result, at 24 months of age, babies who used baby sign language were more advanced in oral communication skills and they were putting together significantly longer sentences than babies who were not taught sign language or “non-signers.” At 36 months of age, signers were almost a full year ahead of non-signers in oral communication skills. Finally, at 8 years of age, signers had higher IQ scores by an average of 12 points or higher than the non-signers. Some social-emotional benefits of signing that were found included building trust between babies and their parents and caregivers, positive emotional development, and boosted self-confidence and self-esteem in babies.

Other noted benefits of teaching babies sign language are that the baby has the ability to express needs and thoughts and it reduces the frustration and number of tantrums due to communication barriers. Jay L. Hoecker gives some tips in his article, “Is baby sign language worthwhile?” on teaching babies sign language and getting the most out of the baby sign language experience.

Sign language is a beneficial life skill that can be taught at an early age with great benefits. This skill bridges the communication gap between babies and their parents, and if they continue to learn and use more sign language, it will form another bridge for them as youth and adults to communicate with people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The key to a successful future can begin as a baby learning how to communicate with this special skill.

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