We’re having a family debate. Does teaching sign language to babies delay their speech? My 86-year old aunt, who served on the San Francisco Speech and Hearing Center’s Board of Directors, believes signing delays speech. My daughter, who introduced American Sign Language to each of her daughters when they were about seven months old, disagrees. Research indicates that signing helps ease a child’s frustration when she can’t speak and promotes verbal language.
My six-year old granddaughter, Juliet learned to sign but abandoned it at 18 months when she began speaking in sentences. She loves to talk and listens to adults and picks up vocabulary like a sponge.
Her little sister, Amelia, just turned two and is completely hooked on signing. Until recently, she rarely uttered a word. She has developed a large signing vocabulary and I think it’s pretty cute the way she conveys her needs. Whenever I’m not sure what she’s signing, I ask Juliet or my daughter to interpret.
But the debate that began last Thanksgiving started gnawing at my fears. As a former speech therapist, I began to worry that my aunt was right. So I asked a few of my speech therapist friends what they thought. One diplomatically said it wasn’t his area of expertise but suggested we start emphasizing more spoken language. My daughter has always spoken the word as she signed to give the benefit of both modalities. The other speech therapist offered to evaluate my granddaughter’s language development.
We have all begun to encourage Amelia to use more words and now she is speaking a lot more words. Two factors seemed to be at work here. We understood so much of what Amelia signed and thought it was so cute; we just let her keep using signs without emphasizing speaking. We also got caught up in a classic case of comparing siblings, which isn’t productive. There is such a huge variation among children in their rate of vocabulary and language development.
It really comes down to respecting the individual child’s development and trusting that with time she will develop at her own rate and in her own style.
Have any of you used sign language with your grandchildren? What were the results?