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Does teaching your baby sign language delay speech?

by Louie Schneidman

I am very blessed to own a business where i’m hands off so I get to watch my 14 month old boy who is growing and learning so fast. We (my wife and I) have been teaching him to sign since about 7-8 month old. At first it was hard, he wasn’t getting it, but being persistent has paid off. He now signs for so many things and teaching him new signs is a breeze.

One day it dawned on me that what if by us teaching him these signs is actually delaying him from wanted to speak the words?

We have a friend who’s baby is just 2 days older than our son. She’s such a smart little girl. She’s by far way more advanced than the average 14 month old. She speaks very well for her age, much better than our son. She doesn’t sign as much though, just the beginning words like “more” and “milk”, things like that.

I know we shouldn’t be comparing children, but it’s hard not too. Her advancement is what got me thinking that maybe us teaching him so much sign language is preventing him from actually speaking. He still talks, babbles mostly but he does say “moma”, “dada”, and “yes” amongst some other words, But I still couldn’t help but feel that sign language might be hurting his speech development rather than helping like it’s suppose to.

So I did what any other concerning parent in the 21st century would do. Turn to the internet to find some answers. What I found was other parents like us had the same concern. The first article i read was from a mother, entitled “Bad Parent: Use Your Words. Please!” ,which talks about her very similar situation with her baby boy. Except her baby doesn’t speak at all and is much older than our son.

The advice she got from her doctor wasn’t good either. She said in the article that the doctor told her that her son should be speaking already and that signing wasn’t helping. That “if he doesn’t start speaking soon, he will begin to get frustrated”. Seems like terrible advice to give an already concerned mother! This article was posted 9 years ago! So i’m guessing this wasn’t the best source to get my answer.

Digging a little deeper I found a more creditable article posted by NBC News that answers this question directly from an expert in the field. Dr. Lynn Mowbray Wegner, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics answers mine and many other parents concerns by assuring us that sign language is not delaying speech.

The goal of speech is communications and sign language is helping accomplish that goal. It is important however to continue to speak the words to your baby while signing them and eventually your baby will catch on and want to mimic what you are saying just as they’re mimicking your hand gestures.

The article also goes on by saying that part of the problem is that parents think their child should be speaking “x” amount of words by “x’ age. Psychologist Vikram Jaswal, director of the Child Learning and Language Laboratory at the University of Virginia, encourages parents not to buy into this notion. She goes on by say, “In my experience I’ve seen a huge individual variation in the rate of vocabulary and language development in general”

This was exactly what I needed to hear! My son is well on his way to develop into a very bright boy. He signs so well and is learning so much, so quickly. As parents, we shouldn’t buy into what other children are doing because not everyone learns at the same pace. As long as your child is progressing, keep encouraging that and soon your child will be communicating with you.

About the writer

This article is brought to you by Louie Schneidman. Full time father of Louie Jr. and business owner of www.lasvegastreetrimmers.com

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