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A toddler aged girl is communicating with an adult male using her hands and smiling.  He is kneeling down and giving her his full attention.

Benefits of Sign Language for Communication Development


The link between language and cognition is unique to our species and emerges early in infancy.  Research demonstrates that human infants, whether hearing or deaf, are equipped to link language — whether spoken or signed — to core cognitive processes like object categorization. This article describes why and offers suggestions and resources for incorporating sign language with spoken language in early childhood environments. 

Pairing Sign Language with Spoken Communication

Cognitive developmental scientists from Northwestern University discovered that observing American Sign Language (ASL) promotes cognition in hearing infants who had never been exposed to a signed language. The experiment was conducted with 113 hearing infants, ranging from 4 to 6 months who had never been exposed to American Sign Laguage (ASL) or any other sign language. The study found that sign language, like spoken language, promotes object categorization in young infants, and provides evidence to support providing infants with a language rich environment that can include sign language.  Additionally, research suggests that delivering essential communication through paired vocal and signed key words or phrases, a practice called simultaneous communication, not only benefits the language development of all young children, but also promotes a more inclusive environment where each and every child is offered multiple means for communicating their wants and needs. In her article titled, Covering the Bases: Pairing Sign with Spoken Word in Early Childhood Environments (Waters, 2020), Chelsea Morgan, a PhD graduate from the University of Kansas Early Childhood Unified specialization, provides online resources for early childhood educators, care providers, and families who would like to incorporate sign language in their communication with young children. While navigating the resources below, Morgan recommends identifying signs that are developmentally appropriate (i.e., signs that will be easy for the child to produce), and that adults practice and become comfortable with the signes before they begin using them along with the corresponding verbal communication. She also recommends choosing signs for words or phrases that are often used in the child's daily routine. These may be words like "more," "cold," "play,"  "hungry," "read," or "share", or phrases like, "yes, please," "my turn," or "all done". To access the resources, click on the hyperlinked titles below:

Signing Savvy: A sign language video dictionary

Handspeak: An online sign language dictionary and app

The ASL App: Rated one of the best ASL apps available for phones and tablets

SignSchool: an interactice app for learning ASL




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