How early can babies learn sign language

Baby sign language: A helpful communication tool

Kylie Rymanowicz and Frank Cox, Michigan State University Extension -

Babies can learn and use sign language as a life skill, enabling them to benefit from its communication advantages.

In the first few years of life, development is happening rapidly. Children are growing physically and mentally, learning new things every day and gaining more control over their minds and bodies. Often, young children get frustrated when they can’t communicate their needs to parents or other caregivers and may have difficulty regulating their emotions. Baby signs and gestures can be a great tool to help parents and caregivers support early communication skills.

You can use baby signs to teach your child to communicate their wants and needs to you. Infant signs and gestures can be taught to young children to help develop their communication skills. Baby signs can be used with hearing and hard of hearing children as a way to build these communication skills. Baby signs and gestures can even impact your bond with your baby because when your baby communicates through signs and gestures, it allows you to be more responsive to their needs. You can use signs at mealtimes and you can even use signs during stressful times to help your child begin to regulate or control their emotions and behaviors.

Infant signs and gestures can have many benefits for young children. In “When can I start teaching my baby sign language?” from BabyCenter, Pediatrician Howard Reinstein of Encino, California and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Most babies have the physical dexterity and cognitive ability to learn some form of sign language at about 8 months. ” Babies and Sign Language supports this claiming, adding that:

  • Teaching babies sign language can begin as early as 6 months.
  • Some baby sign experts generalize that baby sign language is introduced between 6 to 9 months.
  • Between 6 and 9 months, an infant will typically use their first sign.

Other noted benefits of teaching babies sign language are that the baby has the ability to express needs and thoughts and it reduces the frustration and number of tantrums due to communication barriers. Children who have developmental disabilities might benefit from baby sign language and tips are given by Jay L. Hoecker on teaching and getting the most out of the baby sign language experience.

This skill bridges the communication gap between babies and their parents. If they continue to learn and use more sign language, it will form another bridge for them as youth and adults to communicate with people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The key to a successful future can begin as a baby learning how to communicate with this special skill.

Sign language is a beneficial life skill that can be taught at an early age with great benefits. Keep in mind that a long-term benefit can be a career in sign language or lead to other careers, like a speech-language pathologist or an audiologist. Babies can learn and use sign language as a life skill, enabling them to benefit from its communication advantages. Please check out some resources below for more information.

  • Infant signing tips from WKAR
  • Baby Sign Language Sign Chart from Baby Sign Language
  • Two Little Hands Production Sign Language Dictionary from Signing Time!

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit https://extension. To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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Baby sign language: The only 8 signs you need to teach your baby

Photo: iStockphoto

OK, is your baby saying “dog”? Or is it “Dad”? And how do you know if they’re trying to tell you they want more mashed sweet potato or want to get down from their high chair? Trying to decipher your baby’s first words and early communication cues can be tricky. Enter baby sign language:

Why should I teach my baby to sign?

Baby sign language can encourage babies to communicate, as well as improve parents’ ability to understand what their tots are trying to say, says Lee Ann Steyns, owner of Signing Babies, a Vancouver-based company that teaches baby sign language.

One of the biggest benefits is the possibility of fewer frustration-related crying jags. “Using sign language before they speak can dial down your baby’s frustration and dial up their confidence that you will listen and respond,” says Steyns. “Many parents report fewer temper tantrums in older babies who sign,” she says.

Learning sign language can give parents a confidence boost, too, especially first-time moms and dads. “Sign language can create a framework for how you go about your daily routines and help you feel like you’re guiding communication instead of just rolling with the punches,” says Steyns. In addition to helping you better understand each other, learning baby signs can also help with your baby’s developing motor skills and may even boost IQ.

What exactly is baby sign language?

Baby signs are often based on American Sign Language (ASL), but some may teach a variation on it. The focus is on keywords that are central to your baby’s world (think “milk,” “up” and “done”) and very basic, without any of the advanced grammar or other body language nuances of full nonverbal speech. That said, babies who learn basic sign language can build on this as older kids, says Steyns.

There’s a misconception that babies who sign are somehow stalled when it comes to verbal communication. “The research is absolutely the opposite,” says Steyns. “Many babies who learn to sign actually speak earlier.”

When should I start baby sign language?

Around six to eight months old is a great time to start teaching your baby how to sign. “Babies are typically at a developmental stage where they are curious to communicate and pay more attention to things presented to them,” says Steyns. But she recommends that parents gauge their own readiness, along with their baby’s, because signing requires learning on their part and committing to a lot of repetition of those hand signs. Some parents are eager to start when their babies are just a few months old, while others wait until their little ones are closer to a year old (and showing signs of frustration) before they begin. “It’s not too late if you wait longer than a year because then they can start combining hand signs with verbal cues,” she says.

Which signs should I start with?

Although any word that relates to your baby’s world can be helpful, there are a few that are particularly useful. “Functional signs, such as “milk” and “full,” are a great starting point,” says Steyns. “But the fun ones are actually important as well because they’re what your baby will likely be most interested in practising with you,” she says. These may include signs like “bath,” if your little one loves tub time, or “dog,” if your pooch is already your baby’s best friend.

Introduce between one and three signs at a time, repeating them often as firm statements and saying and signing the words at the same time. “Avoid using the signs as questions because this can confuse your baby,” says Steyns.

In addition to practising on your own, it may be worth signing up for an online or in-person course on baby sign language (if there’s one in your city) to ensure that you’re getting the gestures just right.

Before long (usually by 10 to 14 months), your baby will begin signing back to you. But keep in mind that, as with speech, their early versions of the words in sign language will often be a bit different at first. They may only be decipherable to you in the beginning, but that’s OK—just keep trying together.

The top 8 first baby signs

1. Milk

2. More

3. All done

4. Pick me up

5. Change diaper

6. Mom/Dad

7. Play

8. Love

This article was originally published on Oct 01, 2020

Autism and sign language: why is it necessary to teach signs?


Mary Barberian analyst about the advantages of learning to the brutal language for children with autism, which are not only reduced to speech development

Author: Mary Barberi / Mary Barber Source: Barbarabehavorconsulting

One woman wrote to me: “I really like your videos and posts. I also read your book Autism and the Verbal Behavioral Approach. I have a question about children with limited speech who are just learning to communicate. I noticed that in your book you talk a lot about learning sign language, but your book was written before all these mobile communication apps existed. At the moment, what is your position on the use of sign language? If you were writing a book now, would it be the same?”

I really like this question. This woman is right: I wrote the book in 2006 and I had a strong preference for learning sign language back then for a number of reasons. I mainly talked about this in the sixth chapter of my book, which also has appendix number three with illustrations on several gestures for early learning.

However, I must say that if I were writing this book now, I would recommend sign language training even more strongly, despite the emergence of numerous new communication systems and mobile communication applications for tablets. I love sign communication and continue to teach it to children for several reasons.

First, very young children with low skill levels, in my experience, may not have the necessary visual thinking skills to start using a mobile app right away – they may find it difficult to select one of the many pictures or scroll through image folders. Of course, many of these children are very fond of mobile phone games, but the repetitive actions for the game are different from the selection in the picture library, and very often this task is too difficult for them.

In addition, I have found that learning gestures for communication has additional benefits. When I teach a child to ask with gestures, he learns more than just communication. So I usually recommend for small children with low skills who do not speak at all or speak not very well, learning a few gestures for requests.

The first reason is pretty obvious - we always have our hands. This is a way of communication that cannot be lost or forgotten somewhere. If a child swims in a pool or is on a trampoline, he does not need to go looking for a picture folder or a tablet if he can show you with his hands: "Jump, jump, jump. " You can give him a physical prompt so that the child will show the right gesture almost anywhere and at any time. If the child only uses the application on the tablet, then the very need to take the tablet can interrupt the lesson and delay the request. In addition, in my experience, there are 3 more reasons for teaching a child to sign.

Three reasons to teach sign language to a child with autism

Very often professionals are reluctant to teach sign language because they are afraid that it may interfere with the development of oral speech, or that strangers will not understand the child's gestures. There is also a misconception that if a child successfully uses the PECS system or an electronic device, then they cannot be taught several gestures for communication at the same time.

When I became a behavior analyst in 2003, I didn't know sign language at all, as my own son with autism, Lucas, could always say words verbally. Very quickly, I realized that neither professionals nor parents need to learn a full-fledged sign language, they do not need to know it at all.

It is enough to choose in advance up to 5 gestures that indicate something important to the child, and which he will repeatedly use every day. Very often, gestures from your national sign language will need to be modified to be very simple for anyone, including the child himself. After that, you will all learn these gestures together.

Since 2003, I have learned that learning multiple gestures for communication has the following benefits, which are not necessarily even related to speech!

1. Sign language very often "passes" into oral speech.

Gestures are very likely to be a "transitional stage" for a child who has no spoken language at all. This is the main reason why sign language is great for young children with autism without spoken language. In addition, gestures can perform various speech functions. For example, we can teach a child to request (mand response) for a ball when he wants to play with the ball. Then he can learn to name the ball in the picture using the appropriate gesture. Then he can answer questions about the ball (“Are you throwing…?”).

Existing scientific studies have shown that accompanying a gesture with a spoken word greatly improves a child's spoken language. In my experience, most of my young clients, after learning a few gestures, subsequently began to say a few corresponding words orally.

2. Teaching gestures helps children become more tolerant of physical cues.

Physical cues are needed to teach a wide variety of skills. Very often when I start working with little clients who don't speak at all, they also can't repeat a word, show body parts, and can't imitate. I have found that teaching 3-5 communication signs very early on helps children respond better to physical cues, which prevents problem behaviors later on.

3. Sign language helps the child learn to imitate.

One of the main myths about sign language in autism is that a child must be able to imitate movements in order to learn to communicate through gesture. Fortunately, the opposite is true. In my experience, one of the best ways to teach a child to imitate movements is to start teaching them 3-5 gestures for communication, because in this case you start with a physical cue and then reduce it to a cue through imitation.

To sum up, I believe that an important part of teaching a young child with autism language skills is teaching him 3-5 gestures for communication. This promotes the development of oral language, in addition, it increases the child's tolerance for physical cues and improves his ability to imitate.

See also:

How to teach a child with autism to make a request with a gesture

What to do if a child with autism does not speak

How to teach a child with autism to imitate

We hope that the information on our website will be useful or interesting for you. You can support people with autism in Russia and contribute to the work of the Foundation by clicking on the "Help" button.

ABA Therapy and Behavior, Communication and Speech

Why teach sign language to a toddler?

Children begin to speak at different times: someone at the age of one and a half is already able to speak in sentences, and someone begins to speak intelligible phrases closer to three. Both of them can use sign language. We tell you what it is.

Parents of children who learn to speak later than their peers know that at a certain point, already irritable toddlers become enraged that they are not able to express their thoughts in words. In this case, a non-standard solution comes to the rescue. It turns out that toddlers have come up with their own sign language, which helps to significantly reduce tension in situations where “he understands everything, but cannot speak.”

To begin with, let's figure out why teaching sign language to a child at all.

First and foremost, sign language helps the child communicate with their parents.

Sign language helps parents understand their child better.

Sign language skills help to reduce the level of frustration of a non-speaking child. When a toddler has a way to express his needs and be understood, he will be less fussy and nervous.

The emergence of a working channel of communication between a non-speaking child and his parents helps everyone feel more confident and calm.

What is baby sign language?

In some cases, parents teach their children signs similar to those used in various sign languages ​​for the hearing impaired, and in others they invent their own. Children's sign language differs from adult sign language in that it includes a small number of the most simple and utilitarian concepts, without any grammatical nuances and complexities.

Can learning sign language slow down a child's speech development?

“Research says the exact opposite,” says Leigh Ann Staines, owner of a sign language company for children. “Many children who learn sign language begin to speak earlier than their peers.”

When can I start teaching sign language to my child?

The age of 6-8 months is considered optimal to start teaching sign language to a child. According to Staines, this is exactly the age when children begin to show interest in communication and pay more attention to what they are shown.

However, it is important that parents themselves are ready for this learning - the transition to sign language requires parents to be consistent, persistent and repeat the same gestures many times so that the child remembers them and associates them with specific concepts.

It's not too late to start teaching a child after a year, because at this age he will already be able to combine gestures and certain sounds, she says.

How to teach a child sign language?

Teach your child no more than three gestures at a time: show the child a gesture with your hands and clearly pronounce the word or phrase with which it corresponds. This should be done as often as possible and in appropriate situations, so that it is easier for the child to establish a connection between the gesture and what it means.

With regular training, your baby will begin to communicate with you using gestures by 10-14 months. Please note that some of the gestures performed by your child may be slightly different from those that you showed him - this is normal, just continue classes even after the child remembers the meaning of a particular gesture.

If it is difficult for a child to copy your gestures, you can try to take his hands with your hands and show him how to do it - young children do not yet have very good coordination, and they will need extra time to figure out even the simplest movements .

Make sure that all adults around the child know and understand his gestures so that they too can practice with the child and it will be easier for them to understand him.

What gestures should a child be taught?

Staines recommends starting with the most functional gestures that will help the child in everyday life, such as "milk" or "full". However, do not forget about other gestures that the child will have fun and enjoy working out - for example, "swim" or "dog" (if you have a dog at home).

As we said earlier, you can come up with gestures yourself or use ready-made solutions. Here are some of them:

“Milk” is a gesture that indicates a request for milk or a bottle of formula.

“More” is the gesture to ask for more: more cookies, more milk, more fruit.

"I'm all" is a simple and very useful gesture used to indicate that a child has finished doing what he was doing before (eating, playing, drawing, etc.).

“Take me in your arms”

"Change my diaper" is a gesture that a child can use to ask to be changed.

"Mom / Dad" - two gestures that are needed to designate one of the parents ("mom" - touching the chin, "dad" - touching the forehead).

"Stop!" (“Enough!”) is a gesture used to show that some action must be stopped immediately.

“I want” is a gesture that will help show that the child wants something.

"I love you" - two ways to confess your love: with one hand, clenching it into a fist and extending the thumb, forefinger and little finger, or with both hands, first showing yourself, then the gesture "love" (arms crossed on chest), and then to the one to whom the confession is intended. A very important and valuable gesture that will come in handy even for kids.

There are over 100 simple gestures that can help your child tell their parents about their problems or needs—that doesn't mean you have to teach them all. It is enough to limit yourself to 8-10 gestures that your child needs most often.

Learn more