Blog Archive

September, 2013

Why Sign with Your Child?

By: Cyndi Johnson, Advanced Signing Time Instructor

Some parents and caregivers have the impression that signing with infants and young children is a just a trend in parenting—a passing fad. But if you think about it, the simple act of using nonverbal gestures to communicate with little ones has been going on for decades (just think of how excited grandma gets when her 9-month-old granddaughter waves bye-bye for the first time!). And sign language in early childhood has been carefully researched for over 25 years, documenting a multitude of benefits for both parent and child.

When I first began signing with my son, A (now age 5), I admit that I was caught up in the “hype” of “baby signing” and taught myself the basics while I was yet pregnant. After he was born, we took a music/signing class together, and I began using several signs with him at home. Much to my delight, Aidan signed “milk” around 6 months of age and continued learning new “words” at an astonishing rate. By 13 months, he was using over 100 signs! However, around 18 months of age, he was speaking in full sentences and quickly lost interest in signing.

Then along came my daughter R, born with Down syndrome. I knew instinctively that signing with her was anything but faddish. When I learned that hearing loss is common among children with Down syndrome, and that their speech and language is significantly delayed, I was determined to provide R the tools to communicate with her hands. Now at age 3, her primary means of communication is sign language, as she uses nearly 300 signs to say just about anything she needs or wants. However, she surprises me every day with her new spoken words, and is even learning to “read” using sign language–she signs the words when we’re practicing her sight-word flashcards!

But what does all this have to do with signing with your child? Besides the joy of spending quality, bonding time face to face in the miracle of two-way communication with your preverbal infant or child, American Sign Language (ASL) is the 3rd most frequently used language in the United States. So signing with your child provides them experience with a hands-on second language. But there’s much more.

The carefully documented research on signing is universally positive. Overall, studies suggest that typically-developing children who learn to sign in early childhood

  • may have higher IQ scores than those who do not sign
  • may have reduced tantrums
  • speak sooner, have larger vocabularies, and use longer sentences than those who do not sign
  • tend to be better-adjusted socially
  • tend to read at an earlier age

A brief summary of the research is below, but if you wish to learn more, visit


Linda P. Acredolo and Susan W. Goodwyn found that the claim of increased I.Q. held up through age eight. Children who learned physical gesturing and signs showed an increased I.Q. of between 8 and 13 points, compared to the equivalent groups who were not taught signing. This not only greatly increased early language skills but the I.Q. difference was still apparent when the same groups were tested years later.

Further, the results... strongly support the hypothesis that symbolic gesturing facilitates the early stages of verbal language development. In a significant proportion of the comparisons between these two groups, infants who augmented their fledgling vocal vocabularies with symbolic gestures outperformed those who did not. The fact that no such advantage was found for the infants in the Verbal Training group provides reassuring evidence that the superior performance of the ST infants was not simply a function of their families being involved in a language-centered intervention program. The explanation seems to lie instead within the gesturing experience itself.


Acredolo, Goodwin, and Catherine Brown found that the availability of symbolic gestures for at least some of the important things in their child’s life made communication easier and interactions more positive. Request gestures (e.g., MORE, OUT) helped children get their needs met without crying, symbols for specific foods (e.g., CRACKERS, CHEERIOS) provided important clarification, animal gestures (e.g., MONKEY, GIRAFFE) helped them become active partners during book-reading, descriptive gestures (e.g., HOT, AFRAID) helped them share important insights about their environment, and all of the gestures helped clarify the children’s initial, crude verbal labels (e.g., “Oh! You’re doing your TURTLE gesture. I guess Tata means ‘turtle!’).


seems to “jump start” their verbal skills and love of communicating. From the same papers by Acredolo, Goodwyn and Brown, they reported: Parents need not worry about jeopardizing their child’s vocal language development in order to take advantage of this easy alternative to words.  In fact, the data demonstrate clearly that the symbolic gesturing experience seems to “jump start” verbal development.

All research information is provided courtesy of Two Little Hands Productions.


By: Brittany Nott

Running down the hallway, I could always hear her two footsteps right beside me. The one thing I could always count on would be that Sadie, my cousin was always right beside me. She is 16 years old so we are one year apart. Over the years Sadie has taught me countless lessons without even realizing it. It is amazing to say you have such a remarkable family member who you can truly learn from.

In 2009 Sadie wanted to try out for her friend’s soccer team, since the team was a few players short. Sadie and her mother, my auntie Abbe, decided to go a practice to try out. My aunt saw that Sadie really enjoyed playing the game and that she was at the same level as all the other girls on the team. My aunt went to go speak to the coach about Sadie joining. The coach then took my aunt aside and said, “Well look, Sadie is a great player and everything but she won’t be able to play. She can come to the practices and practice with us, but when it comes to a game she may wear the uniform but she will have to sit on the bench, because Sadie is a liability to our team.” Hearing this made my aunt’s head spin. She just looked at the coach in horror as she realized what the coach had meant. The reason why that coach didn’t let Sadie play, is because she has a visible disability. Sadie has Down Syndrome.

On the drive home all my aunt could think was, "How am I going to explain this to Sadie?” Sadie wouldn’t have understood because her friends are on the soccer team and they also have special needs. The difference is their disabilities are not visible, which means that you cannot tell by their outer appearance that they have special needs, but it is very obvious when you look at Sadie that she has Down Syndrome.

Sadie and I are only a year apart so we are very close. Since I am older, I always thought that by the time we grew up, I would teach her the life lessons. When we were little kids, I was constantly trying to help Sadie, with things such as changing the Barbie's clothing, helping her cut a picture for a scrapbook, or even just trying to help her choose out an outfit. Looking back now, Sadie never needed my help; she was always just fine on her own. She was as independent as all of her cousins and never expected anyone to slow down for her. I wanted to teach her so much but, I never imagined she was the one who would teach me the most valuable lessons in life.

The next day after everything had been explained to Sadie as to why the coach wouldn’t let her play, she went to her mom with an idea. Sadie calmly asked her mom if they could start their own soccer team where everyone was allowed to play! My aunt looked at Sadie with such pride. Her daughter, who had just gotten the first taste of discrimination, had already found a bright side. My aunt did not waste any time, she created the "Blazin’ Soccer Dogs": a soccer team for anyone, who would just like to play. The team now has over 90 kids with special needs and it will soon begin its fifth season.

It’s times like this when I realize how small my challenges are. Sadie has taught me that with any challenge that is thrown your way, it is just an obstacle and it is possible to overcome. When people are faced with a problem, usually they give up. They do not have that drive and strength that I see in Sadie everyday.

The "Blazin' Soccer Dogs" is a team where everyone is welcomed to play. There is no discrimination. It is a time to play soccer and nothing else. For most of the kids that is what they look forward to weekly because they do not have to worry about anyone else out there. The kids have a chance to forget about their everyday struggles and have a chance to play soccer. They do not have the anxiety of dealing with kids without special needs. They do not have to worry about keeping up, or keeping score, all they have to do is be themselves because of Sadie. Nothing like this would have ever happened unless Sadie had thought of it. She made what used to just be a dream a reality.

I agree that family teaches you valuable lessons because they are the people who teach you even when you do not realize there is a lesson to be learned. Sadie changes my whole perspective of the world daily and she does not even realize she is doing so. The countless lessons she has taught me, whether it be to always do the right thing, and if the odds are against me it is still possible to succeed, to stop at nothing to reach your dreams, and so many more lessons.

All my lessons from Sadie are so special because she does not even realize I learn from her and that is what makes it so useful. I see her do things daily that no one can be taught. The biggest lesson I have learned from Sadie is to never let anything stop me from reaching for the stars. Her disability has never held her back from anything, which I find so incredible. Nothing can ever stop her.

The thing I find so amazing from this story is that Sadie did not let people’s ignorance get to her. She did the most logical thing that most of us could not figure out because we would be outraged. Sadie did the right thing, she just wanted to give kids the chance to play, the chance that she was not given.

Brittany graduated from Grade 12 in June. She received an 'A' for this essay about her cousin Sadie.


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