Influence of Baby Signs
Babies and toddlers communicate with their limited abilities. Their motor skills develop earlier than the verbal skills. Before producing speech sounds, they use their hands and face to convey their needs and wishes. Prior to appearance of ‘signs’ there are various motor developmental goals babies must achieve through maturational process. There are certain common developmental tasks the babies acquire at the age of 8 to 12 months. The major developmental milestones are, reaching with one hand to grasp an object or toy; watching people, objects, and activities; responding to sound / voice localization; following simple instructions; recognizing objects in reverse orientations; imitating activities like clapping, etc., and the key behavior is commencement of expressive rather than receptive language. When babies begin to respond to what is said to them is the right time to begin training for signing..
Various researchers have studied the signing behavior of the babies, among them are the prominent researchers Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn. Way back in the year1982, they hypothesized that young babies instinctively used simple gestures to communicate.. For example Babies sniffed for "flower," or gasped for "dog," Dr. Acredolo and Dr.Goodwyn speculated that if parents helped this gestural process the babies’ psychological development would be faster. Since then, they researched for more than 20 years in the field of babies’ signing and concluded that signing behavior of babies is a predictor of psychological growth of children in later years. They carried out a longitudinal study on 11 months old babies. The babies were grouped as ‘signing intervention’ and control group and sign training was given to the former. The babies were then assessed on standardized language measures at regular intervals. When these children reached the age of 8 years, they were administered WISC III IQ test. They uncovered a significant correlation between the IQ score and the signing intervention.
The longterm impact of Symbolic Gesturing on cognitive development
A paper was presented by Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn at International conference of Infant Studies in the year 2000. In this paper, they indicated that baby sign training had long term impact on the intellectual development of the babies. For increasing the validity of their research, they had intervention group and a control group and also they controlled the extraneous variables such as birth order, gender , income levels of parents, etc. The research concluded that there are positive impacts of signing on the children in their later years. But is is not evident in the paper that baby signing alone is the factor that contributes to a higher intellectual growth.
Another study by Cook, S. W.& Goldin-Meadow, S. (2006) shows that gestures during classroom instructions,first encourages children to produce their own gestures, Second, children’s learned gesturing in turn, leads to learning. Here also positive and lasting effects of gesturing are identified but it falls short of conclusion that gesturing alone is the cause for children’s better learning.
Brief review of Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn’s works
Based on their research, the Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn developed a yearlong training program called ‘Baby Signs Program’ - that taught babies and their parents to use simple signs to communicate. The purpose of this training is to exploit the maturated ability of signing before babies could produce verbal expressions. One of the scholastic criticisms on the researchers is that they did not include gestures for emotions in their studies, Vallotton, C. D. (2008). Another one is that, though the researchers have presented this training program on rigorous research, it has commercial implication. They provide services for a fee, to the parents on giving sign stimulations to the babies and the experimenter’s bias can influence their research as they have special interest to prove their hypothesis. A paper by Lauri H. N, Karl R. W & Jennifer , G. (2012) criticizes that there are about 82 citations in various websites and 90 percent of the content is opinion articles and are not based on the sound principles of scientific research. While Valloton, C D (2008) subtly crticises that “these (Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn’s) findings should be investigated experimentally to more clearly understand how the early parent–child relationship could be affected by the use of symbolic gestures”.
Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. (July 2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK.
"Baby Signs – Benefits". https://www.babysigns.com/index.cfm?id=66 Retrieved 10.02.2014
Cook, S. W.& Goldin-Meadow, S. (2006). The role of gesture in Learning: Do children use their hands to change their minds?. Journal of Cognition and Development, 7(2), 211–232
Nelson L., White KR., & Grewe J. (2011). Evidence for website claims about the benefits of teaching sign language to infants and toddlers with normal hearing. Infant and Child Development. doi: 10.1002/icd.1748
Valloton, C D. (2008). Signs of emotion: What can preverbal children “say” about internal states? Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol. 29(3), 234 - 258.