Deciding whether to teach a baby sign language is a personal choice made by the parents of each child; some parents and caregivers have expressed concerns about the negative impact baby sign language can have on spoken language development. The limited research that has been completed into the benefits and disadvantages of baby sign language have so far shown the benefits of the communication skill outweigh the possible problems it may cause.
Baby sign language is recommended for infants of eight months up to two years of age, and for older children with developmental delays that may benefit from personalized form of sign language. In many cases the parents or caregivers of children develop their own personal set of signs that allow their child to communicate with their hands. From the age of eight months upwards it is thought that infants begin to develop and understand their own feelings and needs; however, at this age the majority of children do not have the ability to express their desires or needs verbally. In a large number of children this inability to express their feelings develops into aggressive behavior.
The small number of studies completed into the advantages of baby sign language have shown a large reduction in the occurrences of aggressive behavior in infants with the ability to communicate using sign language; aggression, such as biting and hitting are reduced in signing babies. Learning basic signs, such as eat, drink, mother and father can reduce the frustrations felt by children who have yet to learn to speak by allowing them to communicate with their hands. In order to reap the rewards of baby sign language all the caregivers involved in the development of a child must remain consistent in their signs and work towards the same goals. Other benefits baby sign language can provide include an increased level of trust and support between the caregiver and child, and higher levels of self confidence in the infant themselves.
One of the concerns often raised by parents and caregivers considering learning baby sign language is that the verbal communication development of the child will be stunted by learning to sign. Although some studies have shown children who learn to sign to have greater verbal communication skills the majority of studies and anecdotal evidence show no relationship between the two forms of communication. In general communication specialists and medical professionals believe any form of communication between an adult and child is important and should be encouraged.
The use of sign language for infants is generally thought to be a good thing and is encouraged, but the use of signs is left to the discretion of the parents or caregiver of the child to decide upon. The vast amount of evidence shows this form of communication is effective in reducing frustrations and allowing an early expression of the desires of the infant.