What is Baby Sign Language?
The History of Baby Signing
In the late 1980’s, Joseph Garcia, a student at the University of Alaska, became fascinated with sign language. While there were no deaf people in his family, he thought that learning how to sign would be interesting – and he began to study it seriously. Once he had a solid grasp of American Sign Language (ASL), Garcia made a number of friends in the deaf community. This resulted in an observation that changed his life – and the lives of many to come. What Joseph Garcia noticed was that the hearing babies of his deaf friends were on their way to becoming sign language “experts” at around 9 months of age. Yet the 9-month old babies of his hearing friends were not communicating much at all. The difference intrigued Garcia so much that he made it the subject of his Master’s thesis.
Why was it possible, he asked, for deaf babies of that age to communicate by gesturing… but hearing babies of the same age unable to communicate at all?
And if deaf parents could communicate with their hearing babies, would there be any benefit to teaching sign language to the hearing children of hearing parents? Using his infant sons as “test subjects,” Garcia was able to demonstrate the positive effects of signing with hearing babies in his thesis. Eventually, it evolved into his popular program, “Sign With Your Baby.” We’ll discuss the benefits of his program later in this module.
The Women’s Perspective…
Around the same time, Linda Acredolo, a PhD at the University of California at Davis took her 12-month-old daughter Kate to the pediatrician. While they were in the waiting room, Kate walked up to the fish tank to get a closer look. And then she did something strange. She started to blow! Her mother was puzzled by the behavior and, after the appointment, took Kate home for a nap. As she put her down in her crib, Linda “activated” the mobile that hung over it. It was a mobile made of beautiful fish – and in order to make them “swim,” Linda had to blow on it. Instantly, Linda became aware of the connection her daughter had made. Without any instruction, her daughter was communicating with her own form of sign language.
Linda began to wonder:
How many other gestures or signs were Kate using to communicate?
Were there any other signs that she was making that Linda just hadn’t noticed?
Do other children try to communicate by gesturing or signing?
And so her quest began. Linda partnered with her colleague, Susan Goodwyn, another PhD at the same university, and they began to study, observe and question other parents. As scientists, they did things right. With a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, they compared babies who signed with babies who didn’t. They followed their progress at ages 2, 3 and 8.
Acredolo and Goodwyn’s findings were nothing short of extraordinary. They proved conclusively that once babies are taught to sign, their brains become more developed, resulting in one positive benefit after another.
In comparison after comparison, signers out-performed non-signers in all areas.