The idea of teaching babies to communicate using sign language was first introduced in 1983 by Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. The popularity of this infant communication concept continues to grow as new parents are introduced to it. However, along with such benefits as early language-skill development and reduced frustration, as the baby is able to express his needs, several disadvantages have also been cited. Nevertheless, most are either unfounded or can be overcome.
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Baby Signing Delays Oral Speech
One of the main disadvantages that concerns parents regarding teaching their own baby to communicate with sign language is the possibility that babies who first learn to communicate in this way will become dependent upon signing and postpone the transition to spoken communication as they get older. Just the opposite happens, says Dr. Acredolo. According to a longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health during the 1980s and 1990s, babies who speak via signing generally move on to using spoken words sooner than other infants. This is because parents usually say the word as they sign it to the baby, so the sign is reinforced with the sound of the word, and the child learns them both at the same time.
Limitations in Communication
Another disadvantage in parents teaching their baby to sign is that they are the only ones who can communicate with the infant. When the child is left in the care of grandparents or day care providers who don't know sign language, the baby will become frustrated, because she won't be understood as easily as she is at home. It will take her longer to get her needs met as these caretakers guess at what she is trying to say. This scenario can be remedied by encouraging the other caretakers to also learn baby sign language and teaching them the signs that the baby has already mastered.
Confusion in Signing Programs
Parents have several options when choosing a method of sign language to teach their babies. Some may choose one of the many baby-signing programs on the market, such as Baby Signs, which combines simple, everyday gestures with elements of American Sign Language. Others may strictly use ASL, and still others may make up their own version of baby sign language. Dr. Marilyn Daniels, author of the book "Dancing With Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy," recommends that babies learn the national sign languages of their homelands. She contends that parents who teach their children a recognised language will be getting them off to a good start for future development in academic life. They will also develop the ability to communicate with others in society who use ASL because of hearing impairment.
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