History of baby sign language

Research into baby signing came to the forefront in the 1980s. Joseph Garcia is considered by many to be the pioneer of baby sign language. Garcia was studying at Alaska Pacific University as an undergraduate when he became fascinated with communication through gesture and sign. He would become certified as an interpreter for the deaf community. Through his interactions and observation of his deaf friends, he noticed something interesting. The hearing babies of his deaf friends were able to communicated basic wants and needs at 10 months, much earlier than when babies can learn to speak verbally. How did they do this? Easily, they had taught them some basic signs. Garcia delved further and noticed that children of hearing parents rarely communicated specifically with each other while babies who grew up with deaf parents began communicating at around 8 months of age with some as early as 6 months! This became the focus of his Master’s thesis. Further research showed that babies taught to sign had better grammar, and spoke better on average than babies not taught sign. He would later use his own kids to validate his observations.

Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn who were working out of the University of California, Davis at the time also pioneered early signing research. It all began in 1982 through observation of Acredolo’s 1 year old daughter Kate. She noticed that she would make the action for “itsy-bitsy spider” whenever she saw one running around. Not only this, but she found her daughter would wiggle her nose when she spotted a flower as if trying to sniff it. More interestingly, she noticed during a visit to the doctor that Kate would make a blowing action when she saw the fish in the aquarium. It wasn’t until later when Acredolo was putting her daughter down for a nap that she made the connection. The mobile that hung over her bed was activated by blowing over it. Incidentally, the mobile was composed of brightly coloured fish. This might seem benign at first, but it spelled out her ability to make connections across situations. She was able to use a form of sign from one situation to another, thereby communicating her knowledge to others.

Acredolo teamed up with Goodwyn, her colleague who was professor of psychology and child development at California University, Stanislaus and associate researcher at the University of California. Their research observed, examined, and questioned parents as they worked through signing and compared them with parents who didn’t. They found some very positive results worth passing along. We’ll cover these extensively later in this chapter.

Above: Baby can sign with mitts too! Here are a few signs that baby can do with mitts.

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