Show me a sign
Sign language is becoming increasingly popular for hearing children and children with cognitive and speech delays.
Signing (Shutterstock)
Once thought of only as a way for hearing-impaired people to communicate, sign language is becoming increasingly popular for typical hearing children and children with cognitive and speech delays because of its well-researched and frankly quite amazing benefits.

Sign language is nothing short of a magical way to enable two-way communication at a time preceding the logistical abilities needed to perfect spoken language. It’s a lot like a gym membership for the brain – such is its ability to strengthen neural pathways and promote cognitive functioning.

What does the research say?

Simply put, 20 years of research has delivered the following fundamental truths about teaching sign language to hearing children:
•    8 – 13 point increase in IQ that is still evident at the age of 8 (International Conference on Infant Studies, Brighton, England, 2000)
•    Symbolic gesturing in the early stages of verbal development encourages spoken language (Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 2000, Vol. 24:81-103)
•    Toddler temper tantrums lessened and communication increased (Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 2000, Vol. 24:81-103)
•    Signing ‘jump starts’ verbal skills and a love of communicating (Acredolo, Goodwyn, Brown)

Did someone mention something magical though?
What many parents and caregivers do not understand is that language (the use of symbols to transfer messages, whether written, spoken or signed) is what sets us apart from the animal kingdom. Language imparts on a person the ability to think, reason, understand, and ultimately grow intellectually.

When a child is given the opportunity to communicate using symbols and gestures before they are physiologically ready to pronounce words using their mouths, they are given hallowed access to the magic, the beauty and the wonder of understanding their world and their place within it.

But doesn’t signing making a child lazy regarding verbal speech?
No, it actually improves verbal speech and if it is seen as it is - a second language - sign language allows for the wonders and benefits of two-way communication to occur until such a time as verbal speech naturally takes over. It doesn’t stop verbal speech or make it develop any slower, and think for a moment if you would stop your baby from waving goodbye because it may stop them from saying the words later on… ridiculous yes…

How difficult is sign language to learn?
It is actually very easy if you learn several signs a week, apply them to your everyday life, and then move onto the next several signs. Why not start with signs about bath time, then move on to dinner time, playtime, getting dressed, going to sleep and before you know it, you’ll have a sign for every part of your daily routine with your child!

Which children can benefit from sign language?
Hearing children who will have definite speech delays, such as those with Autism, Down syndrome or Speech Apraxia, will benefit greatly from being able to communicate their needs, feelings, thoughts and ideas through signs until such a time that they master verbal communication. And like other children, signing will increase their intellectual abilities during the most important years of 0-3.

However, typical hearing children with no delays whatsoever can also benefit from the ability to communicate using sign before the age of two, which is when verbal speech only really kicks in for most children. Imagine your child using a sign instead of a tantrum? Wonderful!

Do you have any lessons on communication using symbols or gestures? Why not tell us about them below.

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