Signing with Baby: Building Relationship and Independence

Baby sign language simply means signing with babies:

  • Use ASL signs: Online Dictionary

  • Choose signs for frequently used words

  • Sign often

Sign language helps me connect to and build independence in my child. I know that babies learn and develop at their own pace and in their own way. I like the feeling that I get when my daughter can participate in her life since I am offering her ways to have a voice. Using sign language as a tool  of communication, she is able to directly influence the world around her.

The only challenge is feeling ignorant sometimes as to her meaning. I use ASL instead of Baby Sign Language because she makes the signs her own anyway. “Friend” is a complicated sign, but she signs it all the time and learned it quickly, I believe out of motivation. I sometimes kick myself for not realizing sooner that some gesture or other means something in particular. Just yesterday my husband figured out that when she puts her hand to her ear, she is saying “phone.” For whatever reason, we never signed phone to her on a regular basis. He told me this after I took the following video in which she signs a few of the signs she likes: juice, light. Only then did I realize that, rather than simply talking about sleep like I thought she was, my daughter was saying “Where’s daddy (unicorn-looking)?” “Mama (milk-hand squeeze), can we call (hand to ear) him?”

Here is an archive of posts about my daughter’s sign language development: Uma’s Sign Posts over time (haha): Life and Times of Uma Pai.

What is the ultimate goal?

We have been signing with our daughter since she was one month old and could potentially see well enough. As there are many ways to get started with signing, I find there are a few helpful questions to ask. The main question is: What is the ultimate goal? Is it to build relationship and facilitate better communication? Or is it to get baby to learn as many signs as possible? More specific questions that help determine what your actual beliefs and objectives are might be:

  1. Based on the goal, are you going to sign with baby (actual, universal American Sign Language) or teach “Baby” Sign Language (simplified, non-universal signs)?
  2. Are you going for immersion (process) or skill-building (product)?

Answering this question is important because even when our goal is stronger relationship competitive thoughts can creep in, such as:

  • Why isn’t my child signing yet?
  • Why is my child only signing one sign after all these months?
  • Why doesn’t my child sign ____ anymore?

These doubts get put in their place if the ultimate goal is to facilitate the development of a child that is strong, healthy, self-assured and self-aware. My method of signing with my child is based on thinking about deaf parents. I don’t think they choose only a few signs to communicate their love, thoughts and values, and their children develop the ability to sign. I really feel like signing has been a laid back and easy enterprise. I think if I worked harder, I could do more. I pretty much just look up signs when I think of them or find myself lacking the sign for something I keep trying to say.

The other day, I was talking to my friend and saying how clearly my daughter communicates. She said something about me understanding her because I am her mother. I realized that not everyone knows these basic signs that we use. I keep wondering if people who are fluent in ASL would understand my daughter’s signing. I feel compelled to build more of a connection to the deaf community so that she can have a fluency that I do not. I am taking a course this spring so I can hopefully learn some basic skills and cultural understanding.

There is so much more to understand, but I think my family is stronger for even these little steps down this path.


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