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5 Reasons to Use Baby Sign Language

By Ellen L. Wells

Baby signing has become a popular subject when it comes to babies. There are articles, books, web sites and DVDs devoted entirely to these baby gestures.

Many parents, though, still want to know, “What is so important about teaching my baby sign language?” or “Why do I want to take the time and effort to teach my baby signs when I just want my baby to talk?” The answer to both questions is becoming more and more clear as research keeps proving the long-term benefits of baby signing.

So what are the top five reasons to use baby signs?

1. Enrich the parent-child relationship. It makes perfect sense that a baby whose wants and needs are understood by his parents would feel closer to them. It also makes sense that a much less frustrated household would make for a better relationship between parents and babies.

2. Increase your ability to understand the wants and needs of your baby, and decrease overall frustration for your baby. Using baby signing enables a baby to convey what she wants and needs. I can still remember seeing my 11-month-old signing “milk” when she wanted to nurse. Later, she was able to sign for other food and drink items, as well as for toys and play. I found that she seemed generally happy and was an “easy” baby. Mothers in our play group noticed and wanted to know more about baby signing.

I referred them to research by the authors of Baby Signs that indicates that if a baby can communicate what she wants and needs – even if the parent must say “no” in response – the baby will know that she was understood and experience less frustration. Reduced frustration means that she will cry less and be much happier (especially as she moves into the frustrating days of toddlerhood).

3. Open an exciting window into the mind of your baby. Babies are developing rapidly. They are like little sponges – soaking in everything. You can be a part of that experience when you teach your baby how to use signs. My daughter was so proud of herself when she was able to point to our fish tank and sign “fish” for the first time. She tapped my shoulder, pointed at the tank and signed “fish.” She had the biggest grin on her face and it was almost as if she had said to me, “Mommy, I see a fish over there.” Her first sentence!

4. Enhance the development of language skills. A common myth about baby signing is that a child who is taught baby signing will choose to use signing over verbal speech. The opposite is true. Not only will a baby choose verbal speech over signing, but signing will increase baby’s verbal abilities. In my practice as a speech pathologist, I use signing to facilitate verbal speech with babies and toddlers who have language delays and disorders, and I have seen the great strides they make when signs are used. It is a bridge to verbal communication. I call it “The tricycle before the bicycle.” It is no wonder that a baby or toddler who does not have any language deficits would benefit even more from signing.

5. Increase your baby’s IQ. Results taken from a longitudinal study by the researchers behind the book Baby Signs, Acredolo and Goodwyn, revealed a 12-point difference in IQ scores when babies who used signing were compared to babies who did not sign. Babies who signed had IQ scores that were almost one standard deviation above those who did not. That is a big leap, one that could indicate the need for all babies to use signing and one that will continue to be explored as baby signing grows in use.

It is clear that baby signing is not a fad but a useful tool to help in baby’s development. Happy signing!

For additional information
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

© Ellen Wells

Ellen Wells holds a master’s degree in education and is certified as a speech-language pathologist, Lamaze-certified childbirth educator and child passenger safety technician. She specializes in family education (including breastfeeding, baby care and car seat installation and use), infant-toddler swallowing and feeding disorders, baby sign language and speech-language difficulties. She has worked in neonatal intensive care, rehabilitation and outpatient care in hospitals and private practice. Ellen is a founding partner of Communication Specialists and co-produced the video Learning Baby Sign Language, which is sold through classes, specialty shops and pediatricians. Ellen and her husband Chris have two little ones and live in Texas. Visit Ellen at

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