Many months before they are able to speak, infants are capable of recognising & producing language. This is because the brain regions responsible for language are ready before our vocal cords are. This means that infants as young as six months can effectively communicate using sign language.
The popularity of Baby Sign started in the 80s, after a research study determined that older infants regularly used gestures intentionally & that by training parents to sign with them, they could increase the infants use of gestures to communicate their goals. In the 1990s, there was a big push promoting the importance of Baby Sign & parents were encouraged to use educational DVDs to teach this skill.
There are still MANY false claims circulating the internet about the benefits of Baby Sign. Countless websites tell you that buying their program will result in your child’s improved vocabulary, earlier talking, better social skills & increased IQ. These claims don’t hold up. A scientific review of the available research found no evidence of any significant developmental benefits of Baby Sign. Practicing Baby Sign doesn’t result in any substantial cognitive improvements at all.
BUT that doesn’t mean that Baby Sign is pointless. In fact, there are many benefits to engaging in gestural communication with your infant – but, these advantages are for YOU, not your baby. The research suggests that Baby Sign has positive effects on caregiver responsiveness, bonding, attunement & connection.
Baby Sign gets you to stop & think about your baby’s wants & goals. It forces you to really connect & consider what your child might be trying to communicate. This focus often means that parents are more attentive to their child’s needs. Our baby’s cues are often hard to read – by having this extra tool in our toolbox to better understand our child, we can help reduce (both parent & child) frustration & improve our parent-child connection.
References: Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1988; Johnston et al 2005; Ramstad 2019; Perotta 2018; Kirk et al 2013