Thank God for Baby Signs

My last post was about Jonah and his “baby signing.” Jonah knows about twenty signs at this point. I have posted in the past about our signing, but I don’t do it as frequently as I should. I am trying to post about it more, as it has become something completely invaluable in our lives.

Jonah does not talk. Not verbally anyway, he does not say a single word. He used to call me “Momom” and he had started to call Daryl “Daddy” but he was never very consistent about either of those words. The only things that he verbalizes currently are “dadadada” (only in babble, not meaning Daryl) “woo woo” (which he repeats after the parrot, who says “woof woof”) and “eeehhhh” (his version of “yay”)

As I have said in previous posts, he is in early interventions partially for this reason. We are seeking personalized speech therapy. Many mothers have asked me if I regret teaching Jonah signs, or if I am going to stop signing to “force” him to speak verbally. The answers are, respectively, no and no.

On the contrary, I am thankful that Jonah knows how to sign. Without Jonah’s signs, I would have no idea what my child wants or needs. He would not be able to tell us basic things. He would not be able to tell me when he has to potty (he can even tell me whether he has to pee or poop!) He would not be able to tell me when he is hungry or thirsty. He would not be able to tell me when he wants his special gorilla, when we’ve had a “miss” and he needs a diaper change, when he’s full at mealtime. He wouldn’t be able to tell me what he is thinking about or noticing, like if he sees the dog or his shoes. He would not be able to communicate anything to us. Can you imagine living in a world where you had no words or any way to communicate? If you had to rely on crude gestures like pointing, and crying, to tell people what you need? That would be the most frustrating thing that anyone could experience, in my opinion.

And I have witnessed this frustration of not being able to communicate first hand. When Jonah wants or needs something, and he has no sign for it, the tantrum that ensues is or mammoth proportions. He gets frustrated, and upset, and I get frustrated and upset soon after. When Jonah learns a new sign, the amount of crying in this household is decreased dramatically.

I do not believe that Jonah’s signing has anything to do with his speech delay. As a cognitive psychologist who has studied language acquisition and child development both in the lab and in casual observation, I can say with confidence that there is absolutely nothing that suggests signing will lead to a delay in speech. There are so many variables that interact to cause a delay in speech, especially in Jonah’s case. On the contrary, I believe that signing can help a child who has a speech delay, by strengthening the connections between words, meanings, and communication.

So no, we will not be taking this valuable tool away from my son. I will not ignore his signs until he produces the verbal word. I think that to do so would be detrimental not only to his emotional well-being, but also to the work we are doing with him to get him to speak.

And everytime he crawls to me and signs “Milk” I do not curse at the thought that he cannot verbally say the word. Instead, I say “thank god he has the tools to tell me what he needs right now!”

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  • I used to hear some of these same things with Brandon about talking. Brandon was severely developmentally delayed. He didn’t talk start talking until he was almost three years old and didn’t start walking till he was almost two. Baby signing was the best decision for us because without it I would have had no way to communicate with him.

    I think people make assumptions with kids that are developmentally delayed like it is something you are or are not doing. It’s frustrating.

  • I’m glad you guys have had signing to help! There are days I wish we’d started it with Danny, though for so long we were just so overwhelmed with everything ELSE that we didn’t have the time or energy to do it right. I know a lot of kids, even hearing impaired kids, who also do baby signs and it has not slowed down their speech one bit.