Jocelyn DeCrescenzo clearly remembers when her pediatrician thought she was slightly crazy. She claimed her seven-month-old daughter, Paula, had a problem with her left ear. Examination of the ear showed nothing wrong. Still, Jocelyn insisted, saying her daughter had told her that her ear hurt.
"When he asked rather sarcastically, 'And how did she manage to do that?' I explained that she had told me with signs," says Jocelyn. A more in-depth exam verified Paula's middle ear infection. "There was much apologizing afterward," recalls Jocelyn. "He was just so amazed that an infant could actually communicate to such an extent."
Sign language, previously used exclusively by the deaf, is now being used by parents as a way to empower hearing babies and reduce their frustration by giving them the tools to communicate before they are physiologically able to talk.
Roots of Baby Sign Language
Until recently, the prevailing theory on when children start communicating was based on the studies of renowned Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. His work is based on four stages of mental growth in which he claims a child is only concerned with gaining motor control from birth to two years and does not begin learning verbal skills until later.
Dr. Joseph Garcia, PhD, a Washington educator and researcher who learned American Sign Language (ASL) while in high school to communicate with several deaf classmates, is now challenging that research with more recent studies. "The focus of my initial research was that infants had a lot more going on than what researchers had claimed up to that point," explains Dr. Garcia. "But there was no way to really prove that until I began to look at language as the single identifier of intelligence. And once you can communicate with a child, you can figure out what they know and what they don't know and how they structure their ideas and thoughts."