Baby sign language is similar to but differs from, American Sign Language (ASL), and other sign languages such as Australian Sign Language. Baby sign language uses hand gestures to facilitate communication between babies and caregivers. This is taught alongside the spoken word, but before the baby can speak. In this way, it improves communication between baby and caregiver, reduces frustration and promotes the infant-caregiver bond.
Infants start gesturing as a means to communicate starting from around nine to 12 months, even if they have not been taught or prompted by adults. Babies can be taught gestures for specific words from the age of six months. Coupling certain signs for words which are commonly used with babies, (such as “more”, “hungry”, “thirsty” and “sleepy”), with their spoken word counterparts can improve communication between baby and adult. In this way, a baby can use a hand sign for “all done” when they are no longer hungry before they can say the words. In this situation, frustration in both baby and caregiver is reduced, as they can understand each other better.
What Are the Differences Between Baby Sign Language and ASL?
Baby sign language is typically used between hearing adults and babies, while ASL and other sign languages are most commonly used by deaf and other hearing-impaired people.
Because ASL is the language used by deaf people to communicate in daily life, it is just as complex as any other language, such as French, Mandarin or English. It has grammar and sentence structure. Teaching it to a baby is just as difficult as teaching a spoken language.
Baby sign language, on the other hand, is simplified. The signs are often taken from ASL or other sign languages and then adapted to make them simpler. This makes it easier for the baby to form the signs with their hands, as well as making it more straightforward for adults to learn and then teach their babies.
The main difference between ASL and baby sign language is the intention. While ASL is a full language which one will use for the rest of their life, baby sign language is used as a sort of placeholder. Baby sign language is used to promote communication between adults and pre-verbal children, while ASL and other sign languages are used for communication between adults or children who are of verbal age, but hard of hearing. Once a child is to express themselves in full conversation, baby sign language is abandoned. In this case, baby sign language is used as a promoter for the spoken word, instead of as a replacement such as ASL.
However, it is recommended to use signs from ASL or the sign language which is closest to your native language. That way, the signs you teach your baby can be carried over. Your baby will be able to use these signs to communicate in daycare or with other adults more easily.
Teaching your baby sign language can be a fun way to bond with your child, with the added benefit of improving their self-expression and language skills! On this site, you can find information about baby sign language, resources, and more. You can find valuable information on topics such as the right time to introduce baby sign language and the correct ways to do it, as well as charts on useful signs to start with.