"Right now her language is blossoming to the point where she is already saying full sentences," says Gayle. "The other day she said, 'I want a snack.' She is clearly advanced for her age."
While stressing good communication is a priority in Gayle's family, she is also convinced that signing plays a significant role in Noa's verbal advances.
Will Signing Delay Language?
Yet other parents, like Carrie and Jocelyn, express concern over whether babies who sign will rely on signing and verbalize slower. Dr. Garcia's program works with the complete and universal American Sign Language, but Carrie always intended to use just the key signs because she says, "that thought was in the back of my mind."
Both Dr. Garcia's and Dr. Whaley's findings, as well as other studies, consistently show the opposite to be true: children who sign tend to speak sooner and have a bigger vocabulary because they verbalize the words they signed earlier.
In the same way that crawling seems to stimulate a child's interest in walking, signing seems to provide an excellent bridge to verbal communication," explains Dr. Garcia. "We need to look at signing as a precursor to speech, not a replacement."
He further explains that one language "modality" or method does not replace another. Signing and talking are two different language modalities. The skills a child learns to communicate are the same regardless of the modality.
"By learning how to work out the structure of language before that child can talk just makes it that much easier for him when he is physiologically able to produce those words," says Dr. Garcia.
Dr. Whaley agrees. "What we found is that their first spoken words are usually words they had already learned to sign. As the children learn to speak more words, their use of signs fades away."
Both Dr. Whaley and Dr. Garcia recommend using the American Sign Language (ASL) because it is universal. Depending on how far parents want to take it, ASL can carry beyond the infant-parent stage into early childhood and can eventually become a second language.
When asked who conceived the notion of infant signing, Dr. Garcia replied, "We all need to remember this was a gift we got from the deaf. We need to thank them. One way to do that is by meeting the deaf halfway. The added bonus here is that this is a wonderful way to destigmatize deafness."