Will using sign language with babies delay speech?
Baby Sign Language is a growing phenomenon around Australia after the inception of using sign language with babies began in America. Using baby sign language can help ease frustration for parents and babies during those preverbal times offering a simple form of communication to help enable babies to get them selves understood. But does using baby sign language actually delay speech? The short answer to this is no.
Signing is a very good start to communicating as a babies physical development does not allow them to start speaking properly until around 18 months old. Communication is communication and using forms of sign and gestures are all very effective ways for a child to get their message across and get others to understand them. By using Auslan, the official sign language of Australia, as your form of baby sign language communication, you are enabling your baby to be able to communicate with a potentially wider range of people and/or carers. Many people working in the childcare industry have had some form of basic training in sign language so using Auslan can be of great benefit for consistency rather than having to try and work out what made up signs or gestures may mean. Part of the problem when parents get concerned that their baby is not speaking yet is because they think that their baby should be speaking by now. But that is rarely the case. There are common milestones in your baby's language development but these have to be considered as guidelines only since each baby is unique. There is a huge variance in the rate of vocabulary development and while many babies will start to babble or attempt their first words soon after their first birthday some will babble endlessly while others may skip it completely and begin speaking in short sentences.
Whether a baby starts to speak late or early rarely gives any true indication of that baby's future capabilities. Research carried out in America and published in the Journal of Non Verbal Behavior by Dr Linda Acredolo showed that when using baby sign language and talking to your baby at the same time on average the children in their studies at 36 months of age were speaking at an equivalent level of non signing 47 month olds. It is important to encourage your baby's attempts at speech by talking to them when using baby sign language so that they can connect the spoken word with the sign. Start slowly and focus on 4-5 keywords to begin with. Encourage attempts to say words and repeat the words back to your baby. Listen to what they have to say and speak slowly back to them while giving them time to respond just as you would with an adult conversation. If you have trouble understanding your baby but they are proficient in signing don't stop speaking to them simply because it is easier to use signs to work out what they want. If you don't take the time to speak with them they may become used to simply getting what they want by signing and not worry about trying to speak. While this wont affect them in the long run it is much better to continue with using speech and sign together.
For more information on how to help encourage your baby's speech you may like to read my article a little help on the road to talking - http://www.australianbabyhands.com/baby-sign-language-articles/a-little-help-on-the-road-to-talking.html