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.
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.