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Benefits of Gestures and Sign Language for Young Children

Development of communication starts in the first year of life and begins before your child speaks a word. Communication is defined as a process by which information is shared between individuals using a shared system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Speech-Language Pathologists understand that communication is more than just words and begins very early in life.

Because children’s physical and mental development is rapidly growing in their first year of life, they may become frustrated when they can’t communicate their needs to parents or other caregivers. This often demonstrates itself as difficulty with regulating their emotions due to this frustration. The use of baby signs and gestures can be a great tool to help parents and caregivers support early communication skills.

Baby hand touching adult hand

Benefits of using gestures and sign language

Research has shown that using gestures and sign language beginning in the first year of life can increase speech and language development, decrease frustrations, and increase parent and child bonds.

Research has also stated using sign language offers the following short and long-term benefits.

  • Increase in cognitive development (+12 IQ point advantage)
  • Increase in social and emotional development
  • Improves attention and social gestures of others
  • Enables a child to communicate effectively
  • Lowers frustration levels
  • Increases the parent-child bonding
  • Improves memory of vocabulary because muscle memory and multi-senses are involved with the learning process
  • Larger speaking vocabulary and ability to form longer sentences
  • Earlier reading and larger reading vocabulary

At what age and how do I start?

Starting in the first year of life is very beneficial. In “When can I start teaching my baby sign language?” from BabyCenter, Pediatrician Howard Reinstein of Encino, California, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Most babies have the physical dexterity and cognitive ability to learn some form of sign language at about 8 months.” Additional sources report introducing sign language between 6 – 9 months is an optimal time to start and infants will use their first sign language between 6 – 9 months.

What is the difference between gestures and sign language?

Sign language is a formal, agreed-upon set of movements used to replace spoken language. Gestures in general—such as pointing, shrugging, or shaking your head—are less formal and don’t have a systematized set of meanings but are highly important in infant and toddler development.

Important gestures a child should be using by 16 months of age

  • Giving
  • Shaking head
  • Reaching
  • Raising Arms
  • Showing objects to others
  • Waving
  • Open hand, point, tap
  • Clap
  • Blow a Kiss
  • Index finger point
  • Shhh gesture
  • Head nod
  • Thumbs up
  • High Five

An article developed by FIRST WORDS Project at Florida State University discusses the importance of gestures and identification of language or learning difficulties.

Important sign language to start with…

  • More
  • All Done
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Please
  • Sorry

A wonderful resource to look up signs to use in American Sign Language is through Signing Time by Two Little Hands using their sign language dictionary.

Using gestures and sign language is a wonderful skill to teach your child that bridges the gap between an infant and toddler’s inner communication ability and language and their ability to form words to express that communication intelligibly with others.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development or their ability to imitate gestures or sign language, schedule an evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist today.

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