One of the moms in my Baby SignShine class shared with me that her little one had been signing ‘milk’ for days before they realized that she was signing ‘milk’. Her baby just turned one year old, and is rapidly acquiring many more words. During her meal time, she would reach her arms out as if to ask to be taken out of her highchair. When her mommy realized that she was not happy with being taken out of the highchair, she suddenly realized that her child was actually trying to let her know that she wanted ‘milk’. Every time she wanted ‘milk’ she would reach out her arms and wave her fingers.
Another mom reported her baby placing his hand on his head whenever he would hear his daddy’s car parking in the garage. Then she noticed he would do that same hand on his head gesture when the phone would ring, and it would be daddy calling to say ‘hi’. Mom realized that he was anticipating daddy either coming into the room, or hearing his voice because the baby would clearly make eye contact while touching his head. Although it didn’t look exactly like the sign for ‘daddy’, it was definitely an approximation. It would have been easy for this mom to miss the sign and think that the baby was rubbing his head randomly.
When a baby is consistently using the same gestures in the same context or situation, chances are, they are using an approximation for a sign and are trying their best to communicate. It may not look exactly like the sign you have learned, but it is in fact your child trying his/her best to communicate!....Blink, and you may just miss your baby signing! Look for gestures that your baby is using over and over again in the same context, observe his/her eyes as s/he tries his/her best to make eye contact, take note if s/he seems frustrated if you are not understanding his/her efforts to approximate the sign. You may find it helpful to write down what you think is his/her approximation and be sure to share this with your spouse or nanny so that s/he can keep an eye out for such approximations. The sooner you can identify what sign s/he is attempting to use to communicate, the more empowered your child will feel, and the happier you both will be! See how Frisee and her mom are understanding one another:
Use these same tips for your baby’s approximations of spoken words, and you will see how rapidly s/he will be able to communicate using speech in addition to her sign. Have fun!