Signing may increase brain development in babies

Children usually do not speak their first word until they are about one. So, how are mommy and daddy supposed to figure out what your child is trying to say?

To solve that problem, some parents are bridging the communication gap with their hands.

Barely one year old, fraternal twins Chase and Russell Anderson are a couple kids on-the-go, and for mom Christy, communication is very important.

So, Christy started using sign language with them. Yes, she was skeptical at first, but at 10 months old the kids were signing back.

Christy said, "I believe this is just another way to communicate with your children."

A government study found 24-month-old babies using sign language were talking like 27-month-olds. And 36-month-old signers were talking like 47-month-olds which is nearly a full year difference.

At 8-years-old, signing babies scored an average of 12 points higher on IQ tests than non-signers.

Dr. Robert C. Fifer, PhD, is the Director of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Dr. Fifer said, "Children have the ability to express themselves and begin communication around six months of age."

He also says this will not turn your kid into a genius, but it sure can help. Studies show signing boosts self confidence, builds self esteem, and reduces aggressive behavior, too.

"That's good for language foundation, it's good for brain development, and it's good for cognitive development later on," said Dr. Fifer.

To start, parents simply have to speak the words along with their hand movements. This makes it easier to move from signs to words when babies start talking.

These are discoveries that speak volumes.

Baby sign language curriculum uses up to fifteen signs from the Standard American Sign Language, with some tweaks made for the little ones.

Not all babies adapt to the signs at the same rate, and experts say the more parents interact with them the better.

REPORT #1755

The BACKGROUND: Baby Sign Language (BSL) can give parents and caregivers a sneak peak into the minds of babies. According to, the first BSL program intended for the children of hearing parents was conducted in 1998, at Ohio State University. Some early childhood education programs have started teaching BSL to help create close bonds between babies and their parents early on.

THE BENEFITS: Research shows that signing babies have fewer temper tantrums, because they become less frustrated when they can communicate exactly what they want. One NIH funded study showed that eight year olds who learned baby sign language as infants had an average IQ 12 points higher than non-signers. Research also found that teaching BSL improved cognitive and emotional development. And rather than slowing down speech, babies who sign usually start to talk sooner and develop larger vocabularies than non-signing babies. The benefits are not just for the babies. Using baby sign language can often reduce frustration for the parents, by allowing them to feel more connected to their baby. (SOURCE:

THE BASICS: Baby Sign Language should be easy and natural. Parents should start between six and nine months, or when their baby starts interacting. Parents should consider taking a class, or checking out a book to learn the keys to successful signing. Here are some examples of books you can find at your local bookstore: "Baby signs: a baby-sized introduction to speaking with sign language", "Teach Your Baby to Sign: An Illustrated Guide to Simple Sign Language for Babies" and "Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers, Original Diaper Bag Edition."

Here are some tips to start:

Keep it simple. Start with three to five signs for things you do frequently. The most common signs to start with are MILK, MORE, and EAT. However, if you know more signs you can sign more.
Be consistent. Use the signs every time the situation presents itself. For example, when you nurse or give your baby a bottle, ask "Do you want milk?" and sign MILK.
Keep adding. As your child learns the signs and begins to sign back, start adding other signs like APPLE and BANANA. Continue to use the old signs while adding new ones.
Be patient. It takes babies time to learn to sign, but they usually recognize the signs long before they can make them. For example, babies will often show their anticipation when you sign MILK by grunting.

* For More Information, Contact:
Omar Montejo/ Media Relations
University of Miami School of Medicine

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