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Author Topic: Babies and Sign Language
Starsnuffer
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Cognitive Daily had another interesting post recently. This is about helping parents communicate with their children through the use of sign language or a modified sign language. Just curious how many parents here purposely or inadvertently ended up with at least a simple signing system with their babies.
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ketchupqueen
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I know we had a thread about this before.

I use ASL signs with my babies. Some of them have picked up more, some less.

My current baby (9 months old) signs "milk," "more," "eat," "play," and attempts "I love you." She's had most of those signs since she was about 4 1/2 or 5 months old. (I sign to them when I say the words pretty much from birth.) I'm working on "sleep" and "diaper" with her. My kids usually modify the ASL signs to their abilities, but they're understandable. I always model the correct ASL sign to them. My older kids and I watch Signing Time! to learn more signs, and that way my older kids are able to sign with the baby too.

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TomDavidson
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Both our kids sign, and I think it really, really helped. (I'll second the recommendation of Signing Time, by the way.)
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brojack17
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We signed with our two littlest ones (now 5 & 6). We didn't buy any books or videos. I just went to the ASL website (http://commtechlab.msu.edu/Sites/aslweb/browser.htm) and looked up words. We just went with the basics. Milk, cookies, fish (for goldfish crackers), please, mom, dad, etc.
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ketchupqueen
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I suppose that I should add that Bridey, our second, was a "late bloomer" when it came to talking. She didn't say much past Mama and Abba and grunts until she was 14 months old. But she did sign. I tried to get her to talk by doing the "do you want to eat or play?" thing, and she would just cry. But when she started to pick up more signs, the crying stopped and while there was still pointing and grunting, she also signed a lot, she had about 30 signs by the time she finally started talking. Even after she started talking (a LOT) and dropped most of the signs she would sign (I was surprised when she remembered them!) if something was not getting through the message she wanted. When she was almost 2 we were at the mall one day and she was saying, "Peep! Peep!" I couldn't understand what she wanted, and was asking, "Do you need to pee? See a chick? Want something please?" as she got more and more frustrated. Suddenly she drew her hand over her face, the sign for "sleep," as she said "PEEP!" again. And I understood-- she was sleepy!

Signing has definitely been very useful for us.

If there's a sign I want but don't know I usually use the dictionaries at http://www.aslpro.com (I think that's the right address.)

Oh, and it's been useful for me to pick up a little sign, too. I was in the parking lot at IKEA a few months back and saw a couple with twins getting in the car. I started to tell them how pretty their babies were. The father signed that they could not hear me, they were Deaf, with an apologetic look on his face. (I didn't know all that he signed but enough to get the gist.) Because I watch Signing Time! with my kids, I was able to sign, "Beautiful babies!" to tell him what I was trying to communicate. The parents' faces lit up and they beamed as they signed, "Thank you!" I felt really glad that I had been able to communicate with them. [Smile]

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scholarette
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I started a thread on this a few years ago. [Smile] Unfortunately, my baby got mad whenever I signed to her. She would swat at me hands and scream. She's kinda a weird baby. She also doesn't like us singing to her. She screams stop it and puts her hand over my mouth. I guess I am just too far off key, cause she is fine with singing at nursery.

My old post:
http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbmain/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=2;t=047948;p=0&r=nfx#000000

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ketchupqueen
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See, I knew we'd had that thread. [Smile]

Wow, it was almost 2 years ago! [Embarrassed]

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Starsnuffer
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So I've always wondered something. In the sign language alphabet, are the pictures shown as it appears to you when you're signing it, or as it appears to others. Should "B" be palm away from you or toward you, when you are doing the sign?
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dkw
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Away.

We signed some with John, but I think "more" was the only one he ever used. We weren't very consistant, and since he started talking eary and picked up spoken vocabulary fast we let it go.

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Starsnuffer
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Thanks for the link to that dictionary. That's fantastic! I think I'm going to add a "learn some signs" to my resolutions for the year.
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Mrs.M
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We have chosen not to do sign language with Aerin, who has developmental delays. This was a decision made together with her special ed. teachers and speech therapists. She has had much greater success in learning to communicate with PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) (sorry - too tired to find the better page).

We won't be doing sign language with the twins, either. There's no reason not to do PECS with them and the current research suggests that it leads to spontaneous speech both faster and more consistently than sign language.

I'm always very wary of recommending any kind of alternate communication system to frustrated parents. People assume I'm an expert when I tell them that my child is in speech therapy - like that makes me a speech therapist myself. So many of them (not referring to Hatrackers here) are looking for a magical solution to normal baby and toddler behavior and will not put in the work that needs to be done. They also get frustrated if the child doesn't take to it or learns slowly and that tends to escalate an already dicey situation.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
I suppose that I should add that Bridey, our second, was a "late bloomer" when it came to talking. She didn't say much past Mama and Abba and grunts until she was 14 months old.
I wouldn't consider that a late bloomer. I don't think many children say much more than Mama and Abba before they 14 months, at least no many of the children I know. The resources I've looked at indicate that children typically know only about 20 words by 18 months and most children are 2 before they start using sentences. By the time children are two, typically 50% to 75% of what they say is intelligible to parents.

While I know that some children are way ahead of this schedule, it doesn't sound at all like Bridey's language development was even behind average let alone late. It is common for first children to talk earlier than their younger siblings, so perhaps Bridey just seems like a late bloomer compared to her older sister even though she is right on track.

It's also true that some children experience more frustration with being unable to communicate than others and that isn't necessarily correlated with how early they learn to speak clearly.

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ketchupqueen
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Compared to her older and her younger sisters, both.

We weren't worried about her language development or anything, but EVERYONE in my family and my husband's both talked earlier than that. So it was late, in context. But, didn't bother us since we knew it was within normal range. [Smile]

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Christine
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I've done signs with both of mine. My son was a bit slow in picking it up but as he was also slow to pick up speech it was a blessing for a while that he could tell us what he needed with signs.

My daughter, now 8 months old, only signs milk, but I realized we haven't been pushing it that much. Hmmm...time to get on the ball.

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Minerva
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Has anyone used sign with a bilingual child?
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Liz B
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I haven't really bothered much with signing with Nathaniel. I think it's because I'm too lazy. I really do take the path of least resistance, & so far it's been pretty easy to figure out what he wants/ needs. He has learned the sign for "all done," which is nicer than his other way of signaling it--spitting out the unwanted food.

He's *finally* saying Mama, at 13 months. (Just under a year corrected.) [Smile] Compared to me and my husband, it looks like he's going to be a late talker, but I'm hoping he won't be *actually* late.

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Lissande
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quote:
Has anyone used sign with a bilingual child?
My husband and I use the same signs with different words for our bilingual child. She has been a bit slow to pick up on the couple of signs we started out with, but we didn't push it very hard. We recently decided to give it another go and yesterday my husband thought she signed "milk" for him for the first time. She also has yet to consistently say anything(except for her own name and, occasionally, no), but it's possible that she just isn't very motivated to talk.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by ketchupqueen:

Oh, and it's been useful for me to pick up a little sign, too. I was in the parking lot at IKEA a few months back and saw a couple with twins getting in the car. I started to tell them how pretty their babies were. The father signed that they could not hear me, they were Deaf, with an apologetic look on his face. (I didn't know all that he signed but enough to get the gist.) Because I watch Signing Time! with my kids, I was able to sign, "Beautiful babies!" to tell him what I was trying to communicate. The parents' faces lit up and they beamed as they signed, "Thank you!" I felt really glad that I had been able to communicate with them. [Smile]

So, evidently it was a deaf couple, but what about those babies? I never really thought about what it would be like to grow up with non-verbal parents. Would you lose out on verbal communication skills, but gain on body language and visual cues? Would it be more beneficial to have a blind parent or a deaf parent, and why/why not?

I would be very worried for children with deaf parents, only because we can learn body language from many people, but we learn SO much language and thinking from our parents. You have to wonder how deaf parents (if their kids are not deaf) are able to supplement their kids with a skill they don't themselves possess. It be at least tough.

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ketchupqueen
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Orincoro, I've known several hearing kids of Deaf parents. Many of them go to preschool at age 1 or so so that they have early exposure to spoken language. There are support networks in place to help Deaf parents learn about options and obtain the exposure their kids will need to spoken language. They usually grow up fluent in ASL and spoken English at the same time.

I imagine it's rather like kids who are from a Spanish-speaking only home going to an English-speaking preschool. There's an adjustment but kids at that age are sponges. They quickly soak up and become fluent in both languages.

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Orincoro
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But with Spanish and English, they are both spoken languages, and one of them is spoken at home. Is ASL considered to be on par with spoken language in the fluency and depth of expression? Also, I've read a lot that says that children do better the more their parents talk to them, almost no matter what is said- but of course that is not strictly possible in this case, so I wonder if children come up with deficiencies in literacy due to having deaf parents?
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The Rabbit
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Yes ASL is on par with spoken language for both fluency and depth of expression.

My concern would be that during the first year of life children's brains are adapting themselves to recognize sounds used in spoken language. If they don't hear spoken language regularly until they are a year old, I suspect there might be some residual deficiencies. But then childrens brains remaining fairly plastic during this time so it may not that much of a problem.

The question about literacy is interesting since deaf children often have difficulties learning to read because phonetics are worthless to them..

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Jhai
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quote:
Is ASL considered to be on par with spoken language in the fluency and depth of expression?
Yes, it's a full language - in fact it's one of the more unique human languages in the world because, as a physical language, you aren't quite as confined to one word after another. As far as your second point, children with Deaf parents are probably spoken to just as much as children with hearing parents - it's just a different language. [Smile] As long as they get exposure to a speaking language when they're young - like kq describes - they'll pick it up just fine.
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Orincoro
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I hear you saying that, but I'm not convinced that the skills translate to an equal chance at literacy in a speaking world. I don't know ASL, so it's very hard for me to say, but I do know that it isn't a spoken language, and therefore I would be surprised if it doesn't at least have a different effect on children to be spoken to, as you say, just as much but in a "different language." I agree that a child could be communicated with just as well if ASL is in fact as good as spoken words (or better), but the question I have that hasn't been answered is the real world effect on kids who are spoken to most in that language, when they go out into a world that doesn't use it.

By way of example, I now teach a variety of students from virtually every level of language learning, and even the Czechs who speak English with fluency have problems communicating with native speakers. Come to that, I suppose, even native speakers have difficulty communicating with each other- so how would a child raised in a different environment act, without a ton of exposure to language. My very best students are a pair of Vietnamese kids, 10 and 11, who speak 4 languages with fluency, and are communicative in 7- they are the only example of students I've ever had who seemed capable of (not always able to) understanding me in the way that an American child would. They seem able to adapt to my accent, my register of speech, my tone of voice, my body language- everything about the way I talk- but in the world of kids learning languages, they are veterans.

I would be open to the possibility that these children might actually be *better* at some things, or most things, to do with language than others, but I would also be surprised if they were not at least different. As Rabbit said, the Deaf have little use for phonetics, and thus have a harder time adapting to speech related conventions of written language, such as novel spellings, word convergence changes (a and an), and other phenomena related to speech. I wonder if the children of the deaf suffer from any lack of experience with the more difficult and confusing aspects of speech that children have to be "untaught" when they are learning, because languages contain non-logical constructions that only fit into the language when viewed as an evolving phenomenon. On the other hand, do they reap substantial benefit from the communication tools used in ASL?

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
As far as your second point, children with Deaf parents are probably spoken to just as much as children with hearing parents - it's just a different language. [Smile] As long as they get exposure to a speaking language when they're young - like kq describes - they'll pick it up just fine.

Are you certain about this? I know that ASL is a full language, that isn't the question. But it isn't just a different language, it is a fundamentally different kind of language -- visual rather than aural. The neurological processes needed for recognizing and categorizing sound have to be developed in infancy and early childhood. They aren't preprogrammed. If the child doesn't get adequate stimulation of these processes, they may have difficulties with spoken language. For example, babies who have recurrent ear infections are more likely to have speech impediments and require speech therapy even if they don't have any residual hearing damage. In contrast, babies who learn tonal languages (chinese, thai etc), are far more likely to have perfect pitch as adults.

I really don't know the answer to this question. As I said, during the first few years of life the brain is fairly plastic on these issues so it may be less of a concern than I think. Nonetheless, if I were a deaf parent who communicated solely with sign language, I'd be very concerned about providing my baby with aural stimulation.

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Jhai
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Rabbit, I don't think anything you said contradicts anything I said.

It's exactly like a child growing up in an immigrant household - if they're exposed to English through sources outside the household from a young age onwards, they'll be fluent in English. If they have extremely limited exposure, they'll potentially have an accent in English. Exact same thing with a child of Deaf parents, but substitute "English" for "spoken language."

There have been plenty of studies done on the subject, but I don't have time to look them up at the moment. I have read them however, for an applied ethics case involving the issue of Deaf parents.

quote:
Nonetheless, if I were a deaf parent who communicated solely with sign language, I'd be very concerned about providing my baby with aural stimulation.
And if I were a parent who communicated solely in Spanish in the US, I'd be very concerned about providing my baby with English interaction so that they grow up fluent in the language.
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ketchupqueen
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One other thing to consider is that hearing children of Deaf parents often become their parents' translators from a young age. That may make up for any defecits that exist-- there's an added exposure simply because when they go out in public places outside the Deaf community, most people can't easily speak to their parents, even if one reads lips very well it's impossible to do it when people don't face you and speak clearly and many don't have the patience for that, so often the child becomes the go-between. So more of the conversation is directed to/through the children from a young age than is typically experienced by children going out in the adult world, in addition to normal peer spoken interactions at school, etc., if that makes sense.

Of course that is pure conjecture on my part based on conversations with my friends who grew up in such households. (Of note, they also often had other adults almost constantly in the house who did speak to them in infancy-- grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends seemed, from what they told me, to play a much larger part in their childhoods than they did in mine, and I came from a pretty involved family. It seems when things go right in a family of a Deaf couple with hearing children, the children may grow up in an all-around richer environment with more family support.)

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
Rabbit, I don't think anything you said contradicts anything I said.

It's exactly like a child growing up in an immigrant household - if they're exposed to English through sources outside the household from a young age onwards, they'll be fluent in English. If they have extremely limited exposure, they'll potentially have an accent in English. Exact same thing with a child of Deaf parents, but substitute "English" for "spoken language."

I'm sorry, but I don't buy that whole. Spoken languages have more similarities to each other than to ASL, as far as I am aware- it is called a language spectrum for a reason. ASL is far to one side of the language spectrum, whereas most languages are close to at least one or two, or many others.

And Rabbit is talking about neurological development, not learning in an academic sense- children have basic subconscious skill sets to learn, and if their parents don't have them, how do they get them, and will they get enough? Saying "exactly the same" is misleading. There is no way they are exactly the same.

As far as cognitive development, it is impossible for two children to be exactly the same, so to expect two children who are raised using different languages, and even different areas of the brain to process those languages, there is just no way that the experience is exactly the same. If anyone was exactly the same as anyone else in this area, then all we know about individuality would be wrong- sameness is impossible.


quote:
quote: Nonetheless, if I were a deaf parent who communicated solely with sign language, I'd be very concerned about providing my baby with aural stimulation.

And if I were a parent who communicated solely in Spanish in the US, I'd be very concerned about providing my baby with English interaction so that they grow up fluent in the language.

For the sake of mutual understanding, assume that there is only one spoken language in the world. And then there is ASL. What then? It must be clear to you that aspects of Spanish transfer into English. I know this directly from experience because I speak both languages, and when I teach grammar, I think of grammar terms in Spanish, not in English.
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ketchupqueen
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BTW, this thread is so Hatrack. A thread about hearing parents signing with their babies has completely flipped over to hearing children of Deaf parents speaking. LOL.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by ketchupqueen:

Of course that is pure conjecture on my part based on conversations with my friends who grew up in such households. (Of note, they also often had other adults almost constantly in the house who did speak to them in infancy-- grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends seemed, from what they told me, to play a much larger part in their childhoods than they did in mine, and I came from a pretty involved family. It seems when things go right in a family of a Deaf couple with hearing children, the children may grow up in an all-around richer environment with more family support.)

That makes much more sense to me. I'd also imagine that deaf parents are probably used to familial culture where the need for assistance and support in the hearing world is necessary and implied.
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Lissande
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quote:
Of note, they also often had other adults almost constantly in the house who did speak to them in infancy...
I think this is the key part. Most spoken languages are going to share a lot of phonemes, so learning a new spoken language is just* a matter of building onto an existing foundation. If a child genuinely heard no spoken language at all until starting preschool (even an early start at age 1) it probably WOULD have trouble learning to speak. However, see the quote above. I can't imagine that parents wouldn't supplement their children's language development from infancy with extra exposure to hearing people in or out of the family.

* I know, a big just, but still.

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Starsnuffer
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Orincoro, I was with you in disputing what Jhai said at first, but it makes sense a bit thinking about it. In the same way a spanish-only child can learn to speak english without an accent and with fluency an ASL child could learn to speak english well.

Hm, but I suppose they would be disadvantaged by not having become accustomed to even phonemes of another aural language (as the spanish child would). I'd think having some sort of verbal communication around would be at least beneficial, if not necessary, to avoid issues in speech development.

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