Two friends of mine had a child together a couple of years ago, and I’m happy to say they’re still going strong. The boy, however, was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to speaking – he hit two years old a few months back, but had still barely said anything more than ‘dada’ and ‘momma’. This of course led to a certain degree of frustration and concern when trying to find out why he was crying when he was upset or unhappy, since he was unable to communicate at all.
A little worried, my friends did some research online and through their doctor, and found that this is a more common phenomenon than you’d expect – many (perfectly normal) children do not speak their first words until 15 or 16 months. While there is no hard and fast solution to get their kid talking earlier, they were recommended to try to teach him the basics of Infant Sign Language – basic terms such as “thirsty”, “hungry”, “blanket”, “pacifier”, etc.
Many daycare centers and preschools now cater to Infant Sign Language to facilitate easier communication – some starting as early as six weeks old. Contrary to what many believe, teaching your children sign language before they can speak will not delay speech even further, but in fact helps to further speech development – baby signers were found usually to start talking earlier than non-signers. Children who are able to communicate their thoughts like this – even at a rudimentary level – are also far less prone to outbursts, since they are able to communicate their needs before they can actually pronounce them.
We are a sociable species, so it makes sense to allow communication as early as possible during a child’s development – it not only helps in ways mentioned above, but it will also serve to reinforce the infant’s vocabulary, as well as stimulating the basic need for socializing and communicating.
So, while the thought of a baby gesturing in sign language is perhaps a little strange to some of us, it certainly seems to have its advantages!