Thursday, March 22, 2012

Birthday sign language from a 2-year-old

This is Part 2 of a new series on baby signing.

My last video showed some examples of a baby and young toddler signing (as well as what the signs look like as signed by an adult). This short clip is of Mikko at two years old and gives some idea of how slightly older toddlers or preschoolers produce signs, and also how they might use sign language to enhance and clarify beginning speech.

Also? It's fricking adorable.

My many thanks go out to the inestimable Signing Time series for the Happy Birthday To You DVD, from whence come all these fabulous birthday party signs (also available on Amazon for sale, or rent!). At first I thought the birthday DVD would be too narrowly focused. I failed to take into account that kids love birthdays and will gladly talk about them all year round, and no matter whose party it is.

Mikko didn't start speaking until around 18 months, which is on the later end of normal. He doesn't, however, have any language delays. I know some people are concerned that signing can delay spoken language in hearing kids, but trust me when I say there's overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (I hope to do a post on that soon, but I'll try not to get sidetracked at the moment. For now, here's a decent article on the question, and here are some studies to peruse.) If he hadn't had signing, he still wouldn't have been speaking till 18 months (or perhaps even later, since sign language can help build those bridges of understanding communication). So it was nice to have the signing so we could still communicate in the meantime! By the way, we've also been raising him bilingually in English and German, though I think the idea that bilingual children take longer to start talking is also more a myth than reality.

I'm bringing up this subject of "late" speaking just because, to me, it's adorable to hear him at two years old when he's barely understandable, knowing that now, at four years old, he never stops talking. Except, sometimes, in his sleep. There is no indication now that he started speaking any later than anyone else. Assuming no developmental delays or other special needs, they catch up. So don't worry when any particular milestone falls if your child doesn't have special needs.

I also want to say, So what if their speech is delayed? It's not something that signing causes in hearing kids, but it's not a crisis if it were. Again, assuming they're developmentally and neurologically typical, they catch up. What matters through it all is that they're communicating with you in a way you both can understand. If you're at all impatient for your child to speak, be sure you continue to speak about the signs you're using. You can hear in the video, for example, that Sam and I are chattering away to him about the signs we're all using, so he always had plenty of verbal reinforcement and could substitute spoken words once his speech improved.

However, I also want to address that if your child does have special needs (or if you suspect so), sign language can be incredibly helpful in creating communication in a way that's more accessible to kids. Moving hands (primarily gross motor movements) is so much easier than the tricky dance of tongue, lips, teeth, and air needed to create recognizable speech. So I absolutely think it's a great thing to teach signing to all kids, and some will need it more than others. (Also, if you're concerned about your child's speech development, ask your pediatrician or another expert; you as the parent can usually tell if something's different, and it's always worth it to bring up your concerns.)

I also wanted to point out that Mikko's signing at two had greatly improved over his dexterity as a younger tot. So that, too, is nothing to worry about, if those first signs your baby does are barely recognizable. Those skills get better the more you model the signs done correctly, and the more the little ones gain control over those pesky limbs and phalanges.

I really enjoyed signing with Mikko as he got older and able to speak more. He considered it both a fun game and a way to get his message across. As a family, we devoured all the Signing Time and Baby Signing Time DVDs we could get our hands on. Earlier on, Baby Signing Time was more his level: a few very simple signs, repeated over and over. But by this age, he was ready for the advanced goodies of the regular Signing Time materials, putting together little phrases and sentences and learning a half-dozen new signs a day like it was no big thing.

Now that we're signing with ten-month-old Alrik, I think having continued signing into Mikko's third year stands him in good stead to remember some of those signs and be able to help us pass them along to his little brother.

Have any of your kids been signing at two years old or older? How was it different from having a signing baby?

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Jenni @ Monday Morning Coffee said...

OH.MY.GOSH that is TOO cute!!! C LOVES signing time and I just ordered the birthday one since he will be one in 10 days! Thank you for sharing this!!! :D

Inder-ific said...

Sooooooo cute! As you know, we love signing (and Signing Time) in our household. :-) Our little boy Joe has a speech delay, but every professional we've ever spoken to has ENCOURAGED use of signing, because it helps delayed children communicate their needs, which then gets them excited about communicating in general.

Only one small comment: It's sometimes hard to know the difference between "late bloomer" and "developmental delay." I mean, besides being late to talk, Joe is pretty normal. So saying that late talking is normal except where there's a developmental delay isn't all that helpful.

Also, children with developmental delays usually "catch up" too, especially with early intervention. "Developmental delay" has a very permanent sound to it, but there's a lot of variety in how kids develop and most kids do catch up eventually.

Basically, there's no harm in getting an assessment if you're worried.

That said, Joe was nowhere near Mikko at that age. He said only a few words at 2. So he was a lot more noticeably behind.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Inder-ific: Ha ha, I knew you'd be commenting! Well, I don't know if this is helpful to say or not, but I wasn't trying to be helpful. ;) I firmly believe that if the parent(s) and/or an expert familiar with the child thinks there's a language delay or some other issue, then further assessing can/should be done. I have very little else to say about that, having no expertise or experience on the topic, and would welcome a guest post from you on the subject (hint, hint). All I was saying (trying to say) was that the naysayers (often grandparents or friends without kids or friends with brilliant, genius kids ha ha ha) will get all concerned when your kid is on the late end of normal even though you and your pediatrician (or whoever) have no such concerns and your child actually is meeting all the developmental milestones (just not at those nosy parkers' pace). Can you sense where I'm coming from here? And they tend to blame whatever you're doing "differently," such as signing. (Or, for walking, babywearing. Sigh.) I just wanted to (a) get that off my chest based on my own experiences and (b) encourage and support other parents going through the same thing. I really have nothing to say toward language delays as a developmental issue, so I wasn't trying to dictate anything on that front!

melissa said...

This is fantastic, Lauren, and that video of Mikko is precious. Love it!

At 2, Annabelle never signs at all, despite having used it a great deal as a baby and a younger toddler. She doesn't need it anymore, I guess, but I do think it's useful in so many ways and keep thinking I'd like to try working some signs back in.

In my past life as a teacher, I found sign language incredibly helpful. The first thing I taught children was the sign for "bathroom" so that they could give me a heads up when they were going without having to interrupt what I was doing with another child. Those who were more shy appreciated not having to say it, too!

Inder-ific said...

Lauren, of course I wouldn't want folks to be dissuaded from doing sign language because of nosy grandparents, friends, and the like.

I just found your statement "Assuming no developmental delays or other special needs, they catch up," to be problematic because (a) it's often actually really hard to tell if your child has delays or special needs; and (b) even children with delays and special needs may and often do catch up. Helping children to catch up is the goal of early intervention.

We had just as many (more, actually) grandparents, friends, etc., who told us that we were overreacting and that Joe was clearly normal and happy, clearly not "special needs," blah blah blah.

I know this is a difficult line to walk, and like you say, all you can do is trust the parents. As a parent, though, with all of that background noise, it's sometimes really hard to trust yourself (I only wish "mother instincts" were so clear cut, right?), especially when there are fears about your child involved.

Basically, there are no easy answers. In many cases, there's no magic way to know whether your child is late-but-normal or has a full-fledged developmental delay until long after the fact. Shoot, I've been going through this with Joe for more than a year now, and I STILL don't know if he's just a late bloomer or if his problems go deeper. It's frustrating.

Blah blah blah. Sorry, I can't help myself. :-)

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