Hey, Baby – What’s Your Sign?

"Baby" in BSL - Courtesy of BabySignLanguage.com

Before Nathan, I’d heard about people using sign language with their babies, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would try it.  It seemed like a waste of time and something that only hard-driven-overachievers or new-age-feel-goodery types would do.  Not me.  I’m nothing if not traditional, conservative, and disdainful of anything that I perceive to be superfluous.

Then came Nathan.

As I learned early on in my New Mom of a Baby with Down Syndrome research, children with Ds are typically visual learners, and often struggle with speech and communication.  Sign language is visual (obviously), so I decided that I needed to put aside my prejudices and be one of Those Baby Sign Language Moms.  I bought a book, Nana purchased some DVDs, and we started working on signs.

Although Nathan only does one sign with any regularity (“More”) so far, he clearly understands a good many others.  Sarah Kate, in particular, enjoys using signs with him, and she probably knows more signs at this point than any of us.  Although she spoke early (and often!), there are some days when I wonder if we should have tried baby sign language with her, as well.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Mey Lau of BabySignLanguage.com about guest posting here as a way to get the word out about their free resources for teaching baby sign language to children.  I happily agreed, knowing that our experience with baby sign language has been a good one thus far.

"More" in BSL - Courtesy of BabySignLanguage.com

Baby Sign Language

by Mey Lau of BabySignLanguage.com

Down syndrome has an extraordinary impact on the lives and families of those who are diagnosed. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, the desire to shower them with an abundance of love is often thwarted because of communication barriers. Imagine knowing exactly what they want and being able to meet their need before frustration takes over.

Baby sign language (BSL) is an incredibly practical way to bridge the communication gap be

tween you and your child. As a concerned parent, so many issues arise, both mentally and physically that it can become overwhelming at times. However, communication does not have to be one of the issues.

Implementing BSL early in babies with Down syndrome creates a way to overcome the unique challenges associated with developmental delays. It is not uncommon for children with Down syndrome to experience a delay in speech development until two or three years of age. Starting BSL early will minimize some of the behaviors like tantrums, anxiety and self-injury, which are often a result of the inability to communicate.

Teaching sign language to an infant with DS is not as difficult as many believe. Actually, with careful planning and commitment, parents can expect to see communication start to flow in a few months. As an added bonus, learning BSL stimulates the same area of the brain where verbal language development is housed. Baby sign language provides a foundation for verbal communication as well as introduction to the process of learning. Because of developmental delays, parents should bear in mind the following pointers.

Tips for Teaching BSL

  • Minimize Distractions – Children with DS are often easily distracted. Make sure when you are teaching your child that you have their attention. Keep the noise levels low and teach them in a structured environment.
  • Repeat Signs Often – Repetition is the key to teaching BSL. The more your child is exposed to the use of BSL the sooner they will begin to associate the action with the sign.
  • Use Verbals While Signing – When teaching sign language, be sure to verbally speak the word or action as you sign. This aids in the speech process.
  • Incorporate Motivational Signs – Every sign should not be a need. Teach your child signs for their favorite teddy bear or toy. Teach them signs for something they love; make this a fun part of the learning routine.

Even babies have the need to express their wants and needs. With proper tools, like BSL, behaviors associated with frustration are sometimes avoidable. BSL serves as a bridge eliminating the gap and allows them to be understood while their ability to communicate verbally increases. Consider teaching your baby BSL. Down syndrome does not have to rob you and your baby of communication. They need to express themselves and BSL will provide those means. For free information, tools and resources, visit www.babysignlanguage.com. The website provides free printables, downloads, flashcards and articles.

To learn more about sign language for babies join us by visiting our website at www.babysignlanguage.com or joining our Facebook Community.



  1. says

    I found you on Judith’s blog post about friends. I was quickly attracted to your blog because I have worked with children and adults with disabilities. And then I saw your title on BSL. I am one of those moms that used BSL and am a strong believer in it. Thank you for the guest post, I am going to share this with my friends!

  2. says

    I found you on Judith’s shout out post. I have friends who have used BSL successfully. It amazes me! Thanks for a great post!

  3. says

    Pre-kids I thought I would use sign language. Then, the first sign I tried to teach my kids – “eat” – they just kept laughing. I got them to do “please” and “more”, and then they quickly started saying those words. Julia picked up “all done” from her therapists (I always thought it was weird her therapists would sign to her without ever asking me if I signed with her; seemed kind of pointless), and they still sign please occasionally at me, but other than that I gave up!

  4. says

    I used sign with my girls (one with special needs and one without). It was, without doubt, one of the greatest things we ever did. For my older daughter, it bridged the gap between the time when she wanted to express herself but didn’t have words. It really helped to decrease frustration-related tantrums, and it didn’t hinder her desire to speak. The progression went “sign the word – speak/sign the word – speak the word”.

    I started using signs earlier with my younger daughter and she did very well with them as well. However, she dropped some signs before the spoken language came about, probably related to the autism (and which should have been a clue).

    Have fun with it! You might also consider using ASL (American Sign Language) instead of baby signs because many colleges will accept ASL to fulfill a foreign language requirement. I know that’s a long way away for y’all, though, but something to keep in mind, esp. if your daughter seems to enjoy it and pick it up quickly!