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A decade ago, if you'd seen a baby using sign language with her parents, you probably would've assumed the baby was deaf. Not so these days. The number of parents enjoying the benefits of signing with their hearing baby or toddler has mushroomed in the past 10 years. But why use sign language to communicate with a child who can hear - and is learning to speak anyway?

Speech is not an easy thing to master, and a baby's passive vocabulary (the words he can understand) is often far more developed than his active vocabulary (the words he can use). Long before he utters his first word, a baby has specific needs and wishes to communicate. Studies have shown that it is easier for babies to reproduce gestures than it is for them to reproduce words. In fact, babies naturally employ symbolic gestures to get their meaning across. By introducing sign language, gestures become an effective form of communication. The signing baby is empowered.

The potential benefits of this are huge. Not only do babies and parents experience the joy of communicating early (babies as young as 3 months have been known to sign "milk"), but toddlers experience reduced frustration when they can express themselves. Toddlers who know several single words may wish to communicate something beyond their verbal capacity - and signing allows this. When parents can respond to their toddler's specific request (even if it is to refuse it), the child is less likely to throw a tantrum. Proponents of baby signing go so far as to credit the practice with eliminating the Terrible Twos. So who do we have to thank for this revelation?

The first people in the US to suggest using sign language with hearing infants and toddlers were Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (cocreators of Baby Signs), and Joseph Garcia (creator of Sign With Your Baby). Beginning in 1982, psychologists Acredolo and Goodwyn carried out two decades of research into the practice of signing with hearing babies. In 1996 they coauthored Baby Signs: How To Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk. In 2003, they founded Baby Signs Inc, which today provides workshops for parents and signing play sessions for babies. Garcia - having worked as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter throughout the 1970s - began researching the role of sign language in early childhood language acquisition in 1986. In 1999, he published his Sign With Your Baby Complete Learning Kit, a set of printed and video materials for parents wishing to teach and learn ASL from home.

Both Acredolo and Goodwyn, and Garcia were struck by the fact that babies can communicate much earlier through signing than they can through speech. Acredolo and Goodwyn discovered this when Acredolo noticed her 12-month-old daughter using symbolic gestures to communicate. Garcia, through his work as an ASL interpreter, noticed that hearing children of deaf parents would communicate through sign language before they learned to speak - and as a result, could communicate earlier than hearing children of parents who did not use sign language.

In 2002, with the debut of Signing Time on American Public Television, hearing children across the US were introduced to a fun way of learning ASL. Designed for kids aged one and up, the show has since wrapped its second season and expanded to include Baby Signing Time (for babies aged 3 to 36 months). Host and cocreator Rachel de Azevedo Coleman originally devised the program as way to enable more children to communicate with people like her daughter Leah, who is deaf (Leah and her cousin Alex, who can hear, also star in the show). With her lively presenting style, smiling face and beautiful singing voice, singer-actress Coleman is a big part of Signing Time and Baby Signing Time's appeal. So, too, are the catchy, playful (but never infantile) original songs composed by Coleman and her father, Lex de Azevedo - a renowned composer of film scores.

Two years after Signing Time's debut, the hit movie Meet The Fockers put baby signing even more firmly on the map. The Ben Stiller comedy features a signing baby as well as Garcia's Sign With Your Baby book. The real-life baby had actually learned to sign from watching Signing Time.

Visit BrillBaby to learn more about baby sign language and your baby signing.

Article Source: Baby Sign Language 101: The Signing Baby

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