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Signing With Babies And Children: Effective Communication for Growing Minds

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Effective Communication for Growing Minds

Communication is an inherent need of all humans. It’s part of our DNA. Unlike reading a book or riding a bike – we are born communicating. Facial expressions, body movement, vocalizing and even grunting and crying are all forms of communication. An individual that is anti-social is still communicating through their resistance to human interaction.

For those of us that have been involved in a “serious” relationship at some point in our lives, we’ve more than likely experienced the communication technique referred to as “the grunt”. Though it is primitive and not overly effective in its usefulness, we seem to accept it as a form of communication as demonstrated in the following scenario: Male arrives to the dwelling place prior to female’s arrival. Upon entry, female asks, “How was your day, Honey?” of the male strategically positioned in front of the television in the den, remote in hand clicking feverishly. Male responds with “uughh”. Female accepts this guttural noise as “Fine and yours?” then proceeds to explain the significant happenings of that days’ journey in her life.

Typically developing Infants and Toddlers have an amazing capacity for learning. We know from scientific research studies that we develop our motor skills months before we have the ability to speak words, especially words in their proper context. Furthermore, infants are visual learners to begin with. Then the sense of touch takes over and lastly the auditory portion of learning will kick in. It’s strange that our educational system is largely built on “lecture”, when we are from birth, naturally visual/kinesthetic people.

Understanding some simple mechanics of the brain with regard to the language areas will help to paint a more complete picture of language acquisition. Our brains hold and store language information mainly on the left side, also called the “left hemisphere”. At different positions within the left hemisphere are significant areas or buckets (as I like to think of them visually), where the physical support (tongue and lip movement), auditory support (comprehension and understanding) and production support (actual speech producing area) are held. Each spoken language that is acquired has its own bucket. These buckets again are stored on the left side of our brains. Language acquisition begins as early as 5 to 6 months of age in typically developing infants. The brain categorizes sounds and noises in its most basic process of acquiring language. This is called “phonology”. Creativity, memory and movement are held on the right side or hemisphere of our brains.

Teaching an infant or child American Sign Language creates buckets in both hemispheres as American Sign Language is a language with syntax and linear processing. However because of its gestures (signs) it is a “movement language” - right side of the brain stuff!

Additionally, “Midline: crossing is key in language development.” The reason is because when you cross your arms over the “midline” of your body (the Adams apple to the belly button) the right and left lobes of your brain beef up their communication with each other and form super highways known as the synapses.

So for a child to grasp language and expand vocabulary, American Sign Language creates more resources in the brain for the brain to find things—like letters and their sounds. This develops what the Education World calls “Reading Readiness”. It actually does this at a faster rate than typically developing children with no American Sign Language background.

Using American Sign Language with infants and toddlers is proven to be an extremely effective form of two-way communication. It helps to reduce frustration for both the baby AND the parent. This, in itself, is a wonderful gift—having calm parents and a clam baby. It’s useful in continuing the bond with mother to baby, and is helpful to create father to baby and baby to parent bonding.

Shortened version here. For full length visit

Written by: Kelly Barnhart, Learning Style & Communication Specialist and Children's book author ( &

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