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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Parents� Guide to Baby Signs: Early Communication with Your Infant

Leann Sebrey
Illustrated by Valerie Nelson-Metlay

Chapter One
Laying the Foundation for Using American Sign Language with Babies

Children naturally gravitate to movement and gestures. Any combination of voice, verse, music, and movement is usually irresistible for youngsters. Games such as peekaboo and songs like �If You�re Happy and You Know It� captivate young children. Babies participate gleefully in �Itsy Bitsy Spider� well before they develop the vocal skills to sing. In fact, one of the first documented studies on the use of signs by hearing babies began when Linda Acredolo noticed that her infant daughter created and used gestures to convey her needs. Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, with funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, conducted a ten-year study (1989�1999) comparing the use of signs, verbal cuing, and other typically used communication patterns with young hearing children.

All of the children participating in this study were in their first year of life when it began. The parents of babies in group 1 were taught symbolic gestures for frequently used items or activities. The parents of the infants in group 2 were instructed to use strong verbal cuing or to sound out words when speaking with their child. The parents of infants in group 3, which was the control group, were given no special instructions about how to communicate with their children.

Acredolo and Goodwyn found that, by the age of two, the signing children had an average of 50 more words in their spoken vocabulary than the nonsigning groups of children. By the age of three, the children who signed as babies actually had the language skills expected of four year olds. Acredolo and Goodwyn assessed all the children again in second grade and found that youngsters who signed as babies (group 1) had mean IQ scores that were 12 points higher than the children who did not sign (groups 2 and 3).4

Dr. Marilyn Daniels of Penn State University compared Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test scores of pre-kindergarten children who signed as babies to those who did not sign. The results of this study are also remarkable. Daniels found that children who signed during their preverbal stage scored significantly higher (meaning they had larger vocabularies) than those who did not sign.5

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