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Sign language can help boost a baby's brain development

March 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Children usually don't speak their first word until they're 1 year old. So how are parents supposed to figure out what their child is trying to say? Try using sign language.

Barely 1-year-old, fraternal twins Chase and Russell Anderson are a couple kids on-the-go, so for their mom, Christy Anderson, communication is key.

With the twins just months old, Anderson started using sign language with them. She was skeptical at first, but at 10 months, the kids were signing back.

"I believe this is just another way to communicate with your children," said Anderson.

A government study found 24-month-old babies using sign language were talking like 27-month-olds. And 36-month-old signers were talking like 47-month-olds - nearly a full year's difference. At 8 years old, signing babies scored an average of 12 points higher on IQ tests than non-signers.

"Children have the ability to express themselves and begin communication around 6 months of age," said Dr. Robert C. Fifer, director of audiology and speech pathology at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

He says this won't turn your child into a genius, but it sure can help. Studies show signing boosts self confidence, builds self esteem, and reduces aggressive behavior, too.

"That's good for language foundation, it's good for brain development, and it's good for cognitive development later on," said Dr. Fifer.

To start, parents simply have to speak the words along with their hand movements. This makes it easier to move from signs to words when babies start talking.

This baby sign language curriculum uses up to 15 signs from standard American Sign Language, with some tweaks made for the little ones. Not all babies adapt to the signs at the same rate, and experts say the more parent interaction the better.


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