How would you like it if you could communicate with your Down syndrome child before he or she was even able to talk? Children with Down syndrome often have delayed speech, so communicating can be particularly frustrating for parents.
Most of the tantrums and behavior problems of toddlerhood are caused by kids not being able to adequately communicate what they need or want. Not to worry, though, there is a potential solution to these communication woes – and it is called baby sign language.
Baby Sign Language Helps Down Syndrome Children
Baby sign language is catching on all over the country. By teaching your Down syndrome baby or toddler a few key signs, you will have a way to communicate with them long before they are old enough to be able to use actual speech. Fewer communication problems means both child and parents are calmer and happier.
Teaching Sign Language to a Down Syndrome Baby
Some may be surprised by the idea of teaching sign language to a baby. It is, after all, quite a new idea. But once you get past the novelty and read studies and articles about it, you will realize that it really can work.
Some people will claim erroneously that teaching sign language will delay the onset of verbal language. This is not true. Signing actually stimulates certain areas of the brain that are used for verbal language development.
Studies have shown that kids who signed before they talk actually have increased language development and verbal ability when they do start to talk – and they usually do start to talk on time.
Most Babies Can Pick Up Signs Before They Are Able To Speak
Most babies can hear you speak and have desires and things they prefer even at a very young age, so not being able to express these things is very frustrating to them. Most babies can pick up signs before they are able to speak. A baby is not usually developmentally ready for speech (fine motor skills) until at least a year of age or more, but they are able to use their hands to make signs usually at around six months (gross motor skills).
Since Down syndrome babies often have delayed speech and may not talk until two or three years of age, sign language can make a world of difference while you are waiting. Sign language also naturally increases self-esteem in a child, since they feel good about being able to communicate.
How do I teach my baby to sign?
You may be a little overwhelmed at this point, wondering how you are going to teach your Down syndrome baby to sign a language you do not know! There are, however, many resources available to help you. There are many books on baby sign language; online tutorials that will talk you through what you need to learn; and even baby sign classes that you can take.
Baby sign is based off of American Sign Language (ASL), but you don’t need to know all of ASL to be able to sign with your baby – just perhaps the 15 or 20 most common words you think your baby should know to communicate with you.
Pick Basic, Useful Words
Think about what signs would be most useful to your child. Most people start off with things like milk, more, eat, drink, and sleep.
You will want to use the sign as often as you can. You should speak the actual word when signing it, as this will help with your child’s language development. So, if you were sitting down to dinner, you might sign the word for “eat,” several times. Then you might show your child how to use her hands to make the sign.
If the child does make the sign back, be sure to praise her and offer positive reinforcement. The more excited and happy you are when she uses her signs, the more she will want to do.
You should be as enthusiastic as possible. The signs might not come out just right at first, but they will improve in time. In no time, your Down syndrome baby will have a way to communicate with you.
Elaine, parent of a 13 month old, says,
“I started teaching my daughter baby signs when she was about 7 months old. At first I got frustrated because I didn’t seem to be getting any positive feedback from her. Finally, when she was about 10 months old, she started doing the sign for “light”, which I hadn’t taught her until the day that she started signing it. She loves to do the sign “light” and at 13 months, still does it all the time. Once she started signing “light”, it was only about two weeks until she started doing five more signs: “dog”, “milk”, “eat”, “bye-bye”, and “snow.” By eleven months, she had really gotten the hang of signing and I was so happy that I had stuck with it.” ( http://www.babies-and-sign-language.com )
Baby sign language is a simple idea overall. Sign language is not just for the deaf. It’s for anyone who wants to improve their communication abilities, disabled or not. Since kids with Down syndrome naturally have speech delays, teaching them an alternative way to communicate before they are able to physically use speech can only help them and you.