As I’ve commented earlier, my family interests often overlap with my professional interests. Here’s a report on child language development that I just posted on our family blog, Ocean and Stars:
We are teaching Danny to use sign language for three reasons. First, all children can grasp language before their oral musculature is sufficiently developed to master speech.
Therefore teaching sign language is a way to boost language and
communication skills while speech skills catch up. Secondly, children
with Down syndrome usually have additional speech delays due to
auditory processing difficulties. They tend to be better visual
learners than auditory learners, so sign language plays to their
strengths (again, as a bridge to learning speech, rather than as a
permanent substitute for it). Third, in Danny’s case, we are teaching
him multiple languages (English, Japanese, and Spanish), so signs can
serve as a bridge to help him make links between spoken languages.
We have used signs sporadically since Danny has been about 5-6
months old, but it’s only in the last month (at the age of 14 months)
that he has started to sign himself. His progress in signing is very
interesting, in that first he starts to imitate a sign sporadically,
and then he starts to use it more frequently and consistently, and then
he shows signs of associating it with either it’s sound or its meaning.
He also sometimes makes slight adjustments to the signs so they are
easier for him to make. For example, his first sign was for his name,
"Danny," which is a sign invented by our family (people generally
invent signs for names) made by putting the ASL "d" (index finger
extended up from a fist) up to the right side of his head. Danny
usually makes the sign with a fist, rather than extending the index
finger, though occasionally he extends the finger too. He also often
makes it with two hands rather than one. But he is doing more than
imitating; he will sometimes make the sign when we say his name, even
if we don’t make the sign ourselves
Danny has so far made the following signs (in approximate order of learning and frequency):
The last two signs were used for the first time on Wednesday (music)
and Friday (Mommy), so he is learning signs regularly. Of course he
has not fully mastered these. He uses them sporadically and it’s not
clear how much he understands the meaning of them, but that seems to be
We are quite excited about continuing to teach him signs and it
gives us a real fun focus for our communication with him. By the way,
for those of you interested in teaching signs to your baby, the company
Signing Time just came out with a new set of videos and CDs especially
for babies (called Baby Signing Time). I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard that the product features at least one baby signer with Down syndrome. The company Sign With Your Baby also makes quality products.
Keiko and I took earlier took some private lessons in Signing Exact
English (SEE), a sign language that bases much of its vocabulary on ESL
but has further developed the vocabulary and altered/expanded the
syntax to develop a signing system that closely parallels English.
However, at least at this stage, that wasn’t really necessary. We are
just teaching basic signs to Danny, or simple combinations of signs
(e.g., "more eat," "more music"), so ASL signs are fine. ASL signs
have the additional advantage of being more broadly known and used, so
other adults (therapists, child care workers) are more likely to know
them and they are covered in more common instructional materials (such
as from the two companies listed above.)
Anybody else out there teaching signing to your children?