ASSIGNMENT 13: Baby's little hands are made for talking

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) –More and more parents are teaching their infant children a way to communicate, before they can speak their first words, but are babies little hands are made for talking?

New parents typically wait months for their young children to start speaking up.

"I didn't know anything about sign language and what it really meant,"

For Danielle Dahlberg It wasn't words, but gestures that her first born Cameryn surprised her with after a few months at daycare.

“I knew the A B C's as a child, as far as communicating with it, I didn't know that they have taught that until Camryn came home signing,” finished Dahlberg.

Since then she has incorporated what Altoona Family Daycare taught Cameryn into everyday life. She's encouraging sign at home with both of her kids.

“Nolan we've been working with at home, so he signs more and probably uses it a bit more than Camryn ever did,” added Dahlberg.

“American Sign Language has been around for hundreds of years, and so babies have been learning sign language for just as long,” explained Sing Language Instructor at UW Eau Claire Nicole Jones.

But it's within the last decade or so that parents of babies who can hear have really taken to giving their little ones the skill of signing.

“We're finding that it's sort of starting to go that way because parents and educators and speech therapist are beginning to recognize the benefits of using sing language with their infants,” said Jones.

Jones added that babies can't really form words until they're around 18-months old, but they can gesture long before that.

“If you've seen an infant sort of raise his hands to sort of indicate that he wants to be picked up, or point to something that they want to eat or play with, that's just a very natural ability and sing language just sort of plays off that natural ability,” said Jones.

“We teach babies to wave 'bye-bye' or blow kisses, or give high-fives or high-five, we're actually doing sign language we just don't think of it as sign language,” added Pediatrician with Mayo Clinic Health System Karen Myhre.

And signing could help young children as they develop.

“The benefits are the improved communication and knowing what your baby wants without having to spend a lot of time wandering. And it actually helps ease your frustration trying to figure out what they want,” said Myhre.

“It really helps in the relationship between parent and child. I think that you're just interacting more, a lot more face time,” said Jones.

The trend has become so popular that many daycare's and early child development organizations are adding sign language to their curriculum.

“Once a child can get the ability to look at you, you know, that they can focus, that’s when you want to start it,” said owner of Altoona Family Child Center Jessica Schoettle.

“I started when he was close to a year, about 10 months,”

Jessi Irwin is a stay at home mother of two. Her boys are four and two years old. She taught her first-born Noah one sign at a time, along with spoken words.

“I think one of the first ones he learned was milk, and that one he really used a lot. I just wanted him to be able to communicate the things that were most important,” explained Irwin.

As a two-year-old, Noah didn't have much to say, but he communicates with his mom by signing.

“I think we thought that the long term benefits of doing it would outweigh him not speaking right immediately,” said Irwin.

“There is sort of this misconception that if you use sign language with your infant that it may cause them a delay in speech. But there has been a lot of research done recently that says it's not the case.

“It can actually help kids with speech delay, because they will get extra frustrated because they really can't say the words like their peers can, at the same time. So it helps to get their needs across to their parents,” said Myhre.

Experts say it's important to say the words as you're teaching young children sign language, that's how they'll get the most out of it.

“With the two they'll be able to sort of understand it better and as they progress and are older the signing will go away and they will just verbalize. By doing both, whichever the infant can do best first, they'll do,” said Jones.

Once a baby's can talk with his or her hands, it benefits the whole family.

“Communication is just communication, and either way you do that is just helpful. And so it really helps a child to get their point across and gets their need met or their issue answered,” added Jones.

“I'm hoping someday if he (Noah) takes on another language or if he would ever choose to learn sign language, I'm hoping that there is something in his brain that would facilitate that and will make it a little easier,” said Irwin.

Danielle has seen the progress that Cameryn has made through sign language.

“My daughter started speaking pretty soon, she would sing and then once she did lean the words, she kind of lost the signing a little bit,” said Dahlberg.

But she credits those gestures her daughter learned in daycare- the ones that eventually became the words they share every day.

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