I thought of this post while I was putting my 18-month old to bed last night, and he signed "I love you". I thought to myself, I wonder how many other 18-month olds are able to tell their parents that they love them?? My guess is, not many.
I grew up with a mother who was Deaf, and we communicated using sign language. In fact, I was signing fluently before I could speak. So it seemed natural when I had my own children that I would sign with them as well. I started signing with both of my children almost immediately after they were born. By the time they were between 10 and 12 months old, they were both signing back.
Some of the signs my son uses regularly are:
Banana (his favourite!)
I love you
Bear (his bear blanket that he takes to bed with him)
Milk (he uses both fists when he wants breast milk, and one fist when he wants "banana milk" - a smoothie I make him out of bananas and soy milk)
Work (as in - Daddy's going to work)
Out (when he wants out of his high chair)
I'm sure there are lots more, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it is to be able to communicate with my children before they are able to speak. I see first-hand how much it reduces their frustration levels, when they can simply tell me what they want or need. Tantrums are almost non-existant. Imagine how it would feel to not be able to communicate! I'd be frustrated too! I find it particularly helpful during the time period between one and two years of age when they have lots to say, but are not yet able to form thoughts into words.
When we're signing, we sign and speak at the same time, which I find also facilitates actual speech. Lots of times I wouldn't be able to understand what my kids were trying to say, but because they accompanied the word with the sign, I was quickly able to decipher their speech, and reinforce the word they were trying to say.
I've had many moms tell me they didn't want to sign with their children, because they thought it would delay speech. In my own experience, the exact opposite has been true - my 3-year old has a full, rich vocabulary. In fact, she had a speech-language assessment a few months ago (since my mother is Deaf, my children have precautionary hearing screenings), and the pathologist, astounded, told me her language skills were at least that of a five-year old. Also, if you look at the research that has been done, studies show that children who signed as infants have a far greater vocabulary by the time they reach school age.
And although I think it's great that research supports my decision to sign with my babies, for me it's just about being able to communicate with them. That's all the support I need. :)