"Why Wait to Communicate?"
Sign classes for Hearing Babies
This is a question asked by Joseph Garcia and his American Sign Language (ASL)-based program, Sign2Me. Classes built on the principles of the Sign2Me program expose parents and caretakers and their hearing preverbal infants to signs which empower them to communicate with each other much sooner than they would through spoken language. About twenty years ago, Garcia, an educator and certified interpreter, noticed that hearing children of deaf parents communicated earlier through the use of signs than did hearing children of hearing parents. He did extensive research on early language acquisition and the effectiveness of introducing sign language to hearing children as the topic of his graduate thesis. His Sign2Me program grew out of that work.
Using ASL with hearing children of all ages provides a wealth of benefits. Babies are less frustrated and have fewer tantrums when they can express their needs and desires, and their parents have a stronger bond with them and experience less stress. Brody comments, "When your child can communicate what they want to eat or drink, you have less "whine" with your meal!" The babies' verbal language skills are also enhanced. This is evidenced by a larger vocabulary, more accurate word choice, and accelerated language development. Research by UC Davis professors, Goodwyn and Acredelo, shows that hearing babies exposed to sign language have higher IQs than their monolingual peers. Other benefits include a greater interest in books and improved skills in reading and math. Teaching ASL to hearing children and their parents also allows them to communicate to others who use it, for example, people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and individuals with special needs. These classes are also beneficial to hearing children of deaf parents as well as deaf children of hearing parents.
Using sign language with hearing babies is one of the fastest growing trends in parenting, and programs are popping up around the U.S. as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom . Other companies that promote this include Smart Signing, Kindersigns, and Baby Signs. Not all of the offerings are the same, however. Some of the programs do not emphasize the use of American Sign Language and have different standards with regards to the qualifications of their presenters and products. It is always best to do research to determine which program best fits the needs of you and your child.
Tamara Brody, a Colorado Springs resident, is an approved member of the Sign2 Me Presenters' Network and is offering six-week sessions of "Play-n-Sign" classes for babies 6-24 months and "Sing-n-Sign" classes for toddlers and preschoolers. Deaf and hearing children and parents are welcome. She also offers free introductory workshops monthly so people can see a video of hearing babies using signs and can have their questions answered. Sign2Me products are always available at Brody's classes and workshops and include Garcia's book, SIGN with your BABY, a video, and a CD with activities book.
"Sign classes are by far one of the best things that we have ever done to empower Noah," says Deb Walker, the mother of this 17 month old boy. "Since starting two months ago, his sign vocabulary is at about 35 words. His frustration with communication is much better, and we are now able to have two way "dialogues" instead of trying to guess what his needs are. It is truly amazing! Tamara makes learning fun for both the kids and parents."
"Nothing is as priceless as gaining a window into your child's personality and spending precious time communicating with them long before you normally would," Brody observed. "This is a gift that you give yourself as well as your child." And as Joseph Garcia states, "ASL is a gift from the Deaf Community." With the increased exposure of ASL to the hearing community, a bridge will be built that will benefit and connect us all.