10 Simple Ways to Boost your child’s use of ASL (American Sign Language)

Signing "Baby" at his cousin's baby shower

Signing “Baby” at his cousin’s baby shower

Before our son was born, I only knew a few signs from a TV show I started watching when I was pregnant called Switched at Birth. http://abcfamily.go.com/shows/switched-at-birth(Its kind of a teen-type drama, but I know several adults who love it, too! I just love learning about deaf culture and watching people sign with and without talking, with and without subtitles.)

We started making ASL (American Sign Language) an all-day, everyday part of our lives, however, when we learned that our son had Down Syndrome and that many parents are using this as a way to help with the language delay. I had already met some typical toddlers (and sometimes younger) who signed to help prevent tantrums before they could speak, and I think it is great for any kid to learn at any age! So first of all, a few reasons why we use signing, then I will make a list of tips to really boost how often your family uses ASL and how to use a variety of signs.


1) Kids can sign prior to speaking, helping minimize tantrums.
2) Giving kids tools to communicate other than talking can help you see what they understand already. With our son, his receptive (receiving, taking in) communication far precedes his expressive communication. Signing has helped us understand how smart our little guy is. He understands quite a bit!
3) There has been a connection found among children who sign early and those who read early.
4) I personally like to use it myself so you can make a quick request or comment while eating, in quiet places like church, etc.
5) Your child and family will have a community of people you can communicate with on some level and who knows what opportunities for ministry, jobs, etc. this could open?

Visit http://www.signingtime.com/sign-language-for-babies/ to find more on this. (There is also a list for why signing is important for kids. There are several good resources and products to be found on the website.)

1) If your child isn’t born yet, start as young as possible! If your child is a toddler or older, STILL start! Its never too late!

2) We started by watching Baby Signing Time and Signing Time with our child to learn the signs along with him. Baby Signing Time is 4 DVDs that use everyday signs and then some that are relevant to 0-2yrs old. Signing Time is designed for older kids, but our son loves it! He loves the intro song and other songs. Signing Time has several DVDs and a newer edition of episodes that are currently on Netflix. We bought ours used from someone (who found hers on amazon), but I’ve been told there are some at local libraries if you aren’t ready to buy your own set. We bought the Baby Signing Time one as a Christmas gift for Ethan, and he loves those as well. Both sets are very musical, which helps to recall signs and helps keep children’s interest.

Many parents of children with Down Syndrome (as well as autism) use Baby Signing Time and Signing Time to help children who need assistance with expressing language they understand BEFORE they have the speech capability to express it.

Many parents of children with Down Syndrome (as well as autism) use Baby Signing Time and Signing Time to help children who need assistance with expressing language they understand BEFORE they have the speech capability to express it.

3) Listen to any audio CDs that come in sets from Signing Time so your child can sign along and have even more practice while in the car! If you teach your child signs from other songs not on Signing Time series, the same principle of listening and practicing can help. Also, since its important for the parent to know ASL to teach it, try signing either in your head or with your hands while listening to any song or dialogue while driving (thus doing it in your head), at concerts, while watching TV (Remember to check out http://abcfamily.go.com/shows/switched-at-birth Switched at Birth to see some more ASL), etc. Its kind of fun to see how much you know after awhile!

4) Download some Ipad apps like “Baby Sign” http://www.babysignandlearn.com/baby-sign-and-learn-asl-for-iphone-and-ipad that uses animated babies, flashcards, quizzes, and signing demos. You can get it free to see if it holds your kid’s interest and then buy it for a buck or two. Regular flashcard apps like I Toddler ap can also be a good way to quiz your child’s signing skills. (They can sign it when they hear the word and see the pictures on the flashcards.)

5) You can purchase flashcards and books from the Signing Time company, or you could make your own. We haven’t done any signing-specific flashcards because the other methods have worked well, but if you have some extra money to spend, I’m sure it would be well worth it and your kid would love seeing the Signing Time characters on and off the screen! My son loves it so much, it will be his 2nd birthday party theme! (More on that to come. 🙂 )

6) This is the MOST crucial tip in my opinion…and that is to sign everything you say (any sign you already know) to your child. Say the word and sign at the same time..you still want your child to speak, but if you really trust the benefits of signing as a secondary language, then you will want to do it as much as possible. Even before you see any attempts on your child’s part to sign, keep it up!! (We started around 2 months old and saw no signing until around 10 months old or later.) Once Ethan started to sign, though, he added on new signs every month. Now he does so many it is hard to keep up with what he can sign. Because of Ethan’s speech delay, he only says a few words but predominately signs to communicate.

7) Be patient! Your child probably understands what you are saying well before they actually produce the sign. And remember the way your child signs may not be exactly how the sign is taught, so look for any attempt to communicate using their hands and pay attention to context in which they are using the signs. Ethan started signing “more” by pushing his thumbs against his highchair tray. That is not very close to the actual sign for “more” but because of context we realized what he was doing.

Signing "finished!"

Signing “finished!”

8) When you see your child signing, praise him/her RIGHT away and make a huge deal of it! Ethan started signing “more”, for example, and we would put food straight into his mouth that he was asking for; that way, he would get the connection better than waiting 30 seconds to a minute to come around and give him another puff.

9) Try to watch a little Signing Time daily. If this isn’t doable, signing a song and signing with your child before bed or reading a book, doing flashcards, etc. could be helpful.

10) Interact with others using signing…teach your extended family some signs, let your child teach others, or let your child sign with another child who signs or a deaf friend/acquantaince. I don’t personally know anyone right now who is deaf, but I would think they would be glad to sign with your child and your family.

There they are! If you have any questions I haven’t covered, feel free to comment in the section. I have heard that some teachers use ASL to accompany their directions to get kids’ attention and it was very effective for kindergarten age. Share any other tips you know of. Thanks for reading!


2 thoughts on “10 Simple Ways to Boost your child’s use of ASL (American Sign Language)

  1. Pingback: Undies, Bed-Training, and Therapeutic Lip Taping.. (some 2 yrs old and 2 months milestones) | Better Than Expected

  2. Pingback: Should you keep signing (ASL) with your speech delayed child? (Verbal and ASL Word Count example for a 2 1/2 year old with Down Syndrome included) | Better Than Expected

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s