More Peninsula parents using baby sign language 

click to enlarge Children can ask for food or where their parents are through sign-language classes taught at such places as Touch Blue Sky. (Courtesy photo) - CHILDREN CAN ASK FOR FOOD OR WHERE THEIR PARENTS ARE THROUGH SIGN-LANGUAGE CLASSES TAUGHT AT SUCH PLACES AS TOUCH BLUE SKY. (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Children can ask for food or where their parents are through sign-language classes taught at such places as Touch Blue Sky. (Courtesy photo)
  • Children can ask for food or where their parents are through sign-language classes taught at such places as Touch Blue Sky. (Courtesy photo)

Long before babies start speaking, they can communicate with their parents through sign language.

At 19 months, Debra Allison’s infant, Abigal, is at an age when most babies say their first word, but she can already string together three to four signs. One of her favorites: “More cheese, please.”

When she was 7 months old, Allison began taking Abigal to sign-language classes at Touch Blue Sky in San Mateo.



After seven classes, Allison had learned 150 signs related to safety, animals, colors and clothing, among others.

She used them with Abigal each time she changed her diaper or ran a bath, always speaking the corresponding word aloud. In two months, Abigal had learned her first sign.

“It stopped the screaming fits and me not being able to figure out what was upsetting her,” Allison said.

Bill Austin-White, director of a baby sign-language program at Touch Blue Sky, has taught some 5,000 kids to sign over the past six years. In that time, his typical class size increased from two to 20 students.

“It’s the best thing for kids next to breast feeding,” Austin-White said. “People care for a child and love it, but when the baby starts saying, ‘I want to go outside and look at the truck,’ your jaw drops.”

Austin-White said the most popular signs are “more,” “all done,” “milk,” “mommy,” “help,” “sleep” and “hot,” and kids who start signing at 6 months old typically know 30 signs by the time they reach 15 months.

“They don’t have the fine motor skills to get their tongue and lips to be verbally understood, but they have the gross motor skills to get understanding for all they are saying at 10 months old,” Austin-White said.

Some 30 years of research show that signing can have a huge impact on brain, verbal and emotional development, Austin-White said.

By 2 years old, children who have been signing since 6 months typically have about 50 more spoken words in their vocabulary than children who have never signed, according to research done at UC Davis.

Sara Goldhaber-Fiebert, an anesthesiologist in Palo Alto, completed Touch Blue Sky’s program. Her 17-month-old daughter, Miriam, now uses 80 signs and will ask for more food as a stalling technique to avoid nap time, Goldhaber-Fiebert said.

If Miriam asks where her father is, her mother replies in sign — “father sleeping” or “father working.” Miriam will repeat the sign in acknowledgement.

“She still might not get what she wants, but we know what she wants,” Goldhaber-Fiebert said.

 

Learn the Language

Courses typically cost about $45 for an introductory workshop or $120 for one parent to take the series. Classes in baby sign language are offered at:

  • Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco
  • Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City
  • Parks and Recreation Department in San Carlos
  • Touch Blue Sky in San Mateo

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Niko Kyriakou

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