Can baby sign language delay speech?
It's important to keep talking to youngsters, too
By Victoria Clayton
Updated: 7:06 a.m. ET June 6, 2005
Can baby sign language interfere with a child's speech development? Should a preteen crawl in bed with
her parents after a nightmare? Growing Up Healthy answers your queries. Have a question about
children's health and well-being? E-mail the author. We’ll post select answers in future columns.
Q: Baby sign language has become extremely popular recently. I’ve heard only wonderful
things about it, including that it eases frustration and promotes verbal language. However, my
niece has been taught baby sign language and is now 18 months old and has yet to speak a
word. She seems content to just demand food and drink with her hands. Does baby sign
language actually delay verbal language in many cases?
A: The short answer is no, according to Dr. Lynn Mowbray Wegner, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, N.C.,
and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, signing is a very good ... err ...
sign. It means your niece is communicating effectively, which is a major step at this point in her life.
The exact form of this communication varies. Some parents rely on gestures based on American Sign
Language. Others create their own signs for everyday objects and emotions.
“Communication is communication. Signing, gesturing, using communication boards and other assistive
methods are all acceptable in the very young child who is trying to get his message across and
understand what others say to him,” says Wegner.
Part of the problem may be that you think your niece should be speaking by now. That’s not really true.
While it’s fairly common to read or hear that toddlers “should be” saying a certain number of words by a
certain age, psychologist Vikram Jaswal, director of the Child Learning and Language Laboratory at the
University of Virginia, encourages parents and caretakers not to buy into this. “In my experience I’ve
seen a huge individual variation in the