Baby sign is the use of sign language to facilitate a form of language in normal hearing and developing children (Mueller, Sepulveda & Rodriguez, 2014). Baby sign refers to the use of signs from American Sign Language (ASL), however adjusting the signing size, space and length to emphasize a certain or single word, such as more, please, thank you or milk (Seal, 2010). Baby sign is used to teach babies symbols that represent objects or actions in their immediate context that they can use before they are able to speak those words.
This gives them the ability to communicate with their parents, making communication etween babies and their parents easier. Many babies replicate these signs after being exposed to them for a while and will continue to use the signs when interacting with people. It is assumed that baby sign and language development have a relationship. Language development is the process of how children come to understand and communicate language effectively during their early childhood (“Language Development,” 2016). It is said that baby sign positively affects language development in children.
However, there is controversy regarding the use of baby sign with children and if it nhances language development enough to consider it an influencing factor. A majority of studies yield results showing that there was not enough evidence to conclude encouraging babies to sign/gesture benefitted their language development (Kirk, Howlett, Pine, & Fletcher, 2012; Mueller et al. , 2014). Along with these results, another source stated there was no evidence to say that baby sign had a negative effect on typical development, but still does not support overall enhancement of language development.
Even though baby sign has a relatively long history, there is no significant empirical evidence to support ts effectiveness related to language development (Fitzpatrick, Johnston, Thibert & Granpierre, 2014). It was mentioned that there was research done on hearing children born to deaf mothers in the past and as a result of being exposed to a rich nonverbal environment, these children acquired sign language as well as spoken language earlier then the norms of other children.
These findings led researchers to questions if hearing children with hearing parents would benefit in the same way by being exposed to baby sign before acquiring speech. Kirk et al. , 2012). Due to these questions by researchers, further studies nd research were carried out by a variety of people. Kirk and colleagues conducted a twelve month study with infants and their parents that examined the effects of baby sign. The parents were taught the signs beforehand and checked on or interviewed throughout the study (2012). This study examined a large sample of children, which would give us more reliable results. The infants were able to acquire the gestures/signs and used them to communicate.
Even though they acquired the signs, when their language abilities were compared across different situations there was no effect of the gesture training at ny age. The infants who were exposed to the baby signs did not differ significant enough in their language development to consider the increases in language reliable. However, there was an exception to these results for some males in the group who demonstrated low expressive communication in the beginning. After being exposed to the baby sign, the infants increased their expressive communication abilities.
These results suggest that gesture/signing is beneficial for infants who show signs of weaker language. The findings within this study are consistent with other results found from children with language mpairments who have been shown to depend on sign/gestures (Kirk et al. , 2012). Alternatively, Mueller and colleagues conducted a study to relate to and improve the limitations from Kirks’ study discussed before (2014). The study was done with eleven infants, a smaller sample size then the previous study.
The purpose of the study was to assess the effects of baby sign on overall development including communication, cognition, social abilities, adaptiveness, behavior and physical development. The parent’s training differed between studies. In Mueller’s et al. (2014) study the parents were taught more signs, ad longer training, more practice and were provided with several resources throughout the study. The results of this study contradict Kirks’ in a way because the data collected in the Mueller et al. (2014) study indicated that the training the parents received enhanced their child’s development across several areas.
The parents in the Mueller study perceived to have more interest in the study then Kirks and reported enhanced communication with their children, strengthened bond and reduced frustration. The researchers from this study concluded that they support baby sign training for parents but further esearch needs to be conducted in order to gain popularity among parents and for them to prove that baby sign actually increases language development significantly. Although the results contradict Kirks study, there are similar results from the studies.
Both of the studies showed significant increases in the language scores for the children with the weakest language abilities at the beginning of the study (Mueller et al. , 2014). The consistency of these findings suggests that baby sign could be beneficial to children who show weak language early in their life. Furthermore, the reliability and influence that baby sign can ave on a child’s development can be argued either way. There is not much evidence for baby sign increasing language development but there is a variety of evidence for baby sign benefitting other aspects of the infant and parents life.
A study done by Mueller and Acosta (2015), says that infants use baby sign as an aid in extracting unfamiliar words from language to help them detect what is being said, in addition with using facial cues. Mueller et al. (2014), also stated that baby sign enhanced parent-child interaction and communication, which led to a stronger bond between the child and parent, and it reducing the rustration or stress in parents. This shows that although there is no evidence to support that baby sign increases language development, there is support and evidence to show that baby sign is beneficial in other ways.
There is a controversy between the idea that baby sign affects language development, but there has not been significant enough findings to confirm this fact. The studies discussed agreed with the use of baby sign training for parents and t interaction with their children, but their evidence was not supportive of baby sign improving the child’s language. Some research shows that there is improvement in he language development of a normal child but not significant enough to consider baby sign as the only factor to the improvement (Mueller et al. , 2014; Kirk et al. 2012 & Fitzpatrick et al. , 2014).
Baby sign may have a role as a communication maintenance strategy as well as promoting positive interaction but it does not significantly help develop infant lexicon and linguistic understanding (Howard & Doherty-Sneddon, 2014). Until further research is conducted, baby sign cannot be regarded as an influence or enhancement on a normal developing child’s language development. There is research ndicating the benefits and effects baby sign does have on children, but there is no significant evidence to support its effect on overall language development.
Further research needs to be done to assess the relationship between baby sign and language development in infants and children to consider it an influence on their language. In addition, more research should be done related to children who have language impairments or disabilities to assess how baby sign can benefit or improve their overall language and interaction with the world. In addition, no matter what the stance on baby signing is, parents should be hown by professionals the developmental appropriate signs for their infants.
They should be taught the signing approaches as well as the cautions that align with what is known about language development (Seal, 2010). Baby sign is gaining more popularity among parents and their infants, it is a good source to increase parent-child interaction (Mueller et al. , 2014). Until baby sign is further assessed it cannot be considered an influencing factor towards language development, but it should continue to be used to benefit infants in a variety of other ways, especially those with impairments or disabilities.