1. a conversational exchange; dialogue.
2. a conference.
Being a speech-language pathologist, I am no stranger to using signs with young children. I have frequently taught signs to young children who are having difficulty speaking so they can communicate more effectively with their caregivers while they continue to develop speech skills. So, when I had my own baby, it only made sense that I would teach her signs as well.
I really enjoyed using the signs with my daughter, Emily. It was slow going at first – we had to use the signs a lot and for a long time while saying the words. I definitely had to be patient because she began using the signs much more slowly than my clients (since they were older and understood more language than her already). I’d say we began signing 3 specific words regularly when she was around 4 or 5 months old and she began using them back at around 7 or 8 months old. But once she began using them, it was fantastic. By the time she was a year old, she would sign words like eat, drink, milk, more, all done, bubbles, book, diaper, and bath. This helped us to know when she wanted or did not want something. For example, she might sign ‘all done’ at the dinner table or during an activity and you knew that she did not want to do that activity or eat anymore. Sometimes knowing when your child wants to stop an activity can be as valuable as knowing when they want to start. ‘Drink’, ‘eat’, ‘milk’, and ‘more’ were especially helpful surrounding wants and needs.
The other thing that my husband and I found really helpful with the signs was not just that she could initiate communication with us more specifically, though this was very helpful. We found that if she signed the words, it often solidified ideas in her mind and helped us to get through to her when she was not ‘listening’. For instance, if she was swinging at the park and it was time to stop and go home, having her sign ‘all done’ after we told her she was all done helped her to more happily get off the swing. I cannot express to you how magical this sometimes seemed.
I don’t feel that she developed spoken language skills more quickly because she was signing, as some people suggest. But the signs definitely helped to reduce frustrations for everyone when she could not yet speak or be understood. Conversely, signing definitely did not stop her from speaking in any way, as others have suggested. Once she was able to say words she did and sometimes signed the words at the same time as saying them. In fact, we were often glad for her signs because she began using them to clarify her spoken words when we didn’t understand her. When an 18-24 month old is speaking, it can be hard to tell the difference between words like ball, book, bird, and bath. Her signs clarified for us on many occasions.
Now Emily is two and a half and talks all the time – we no longer need the signs and they naturally dropped off over time. However, every once in a while we still catch her signing ‘more’ and ‘all done’ while saying it, especially if she is really excited or has her mouth full!