Using Baby Sign Language with Your Baby

Mama, Papa, Please Change My Diaper (in ASL)

Sign for Shoes
Sign for Shoes.

Is there anything cuter than seeing a little baby using sign language? It is more than just cute: Researchers have found that using sign language with babies does help to improve their language learning and IQs. So more parents are using sign language with their infants, whether they are hearing or deaf.

It has long been known by parents of deaf children and deaf parents of hearing children that young babies can learn to sign and communicate before they learn to talk.

Baby Signing Does Not Hurt Speech Development

One of the best things about this trend being embraced by parents of non-deaf children is that research has clearly demonstrated that using sign language does not mean that a child will not learn to talk. For years, the deaf community's ASL advocates had to face the argument that if parents used sign language with their deaf children, the children would not learn to talk. Even today, some parents of deaf children with cochlear implants are told not to use sign language so that their children will maximize the use of sound for communication.

Baby Signing Does Have Educational Benefits

Several articles have been published on the use of sign language with babies. For example, there was a study involving two groups of children -- one group that was taught baby signing and another group that was not. The researchers found that eight-year-olds who had learned a simple form of baby sign language using invented signs did better on IQ tests than comparable children who had not learned baby sign language.

Get Started Using Baby Sign Language

It is easy to get started using baby sign language with your baby. Here are some simple tips on how to get started.

Babies Can Use Real American Sign Language

Some parents have objected to the use of "made-up" signs instead of using the more official American Sign Language.

Either will be useful, and anything that encourages the acceptance of sign language for communication is welcome. But keep in mind there is no need for parents to rely on a different form of sign language when there is plenty of video and book material available for learning American Sign Language.

Baby Sign Language Online

  •, has videos for all ages (and the website offers video samples).
  • ASL Pro has an ASL for Babies dictionary online, with video clips of adults signing.
Plus, there are online sign language dictionaries available for quick and easy reference. These dictionaries have either video/animation clips or clear illustrations, so that there is no misunderstanding about how to make a sign.

Baby Sign Language Books

Gallaudet University Press publishes two popular books for toddlers, Word Signs and Animal Signs. More books are on the top picks page for baby sign language books.

Baby Sign Language Companies and Classes

There has been explosive growth in the number of companies promoting baby sign language.
Most of the companies offer video, print, and online resources for baby signing. For example, the promoters of signing to your baby using a form of sign language based on ASL, have a web site. The sign2me web site includes streaming video, an online store, and other promotional material. The FAQ states that the program is based on American Sign Language, and that it can provide a foundation for further learning of ASL.

A sampling of baby sign language companies and their offerings (disclaimer: Inclusion in this listing is not an endorsement):

  • offers illustrated flash cards. Another set of flashcards is the Signing Smart series.
  • has instructors offering classes nationally. The company also sells products such as a puppet, and a video series covering bedtime, mealtime, bathtime, and pets.
  • sells an e-book on baby sign.
  • offers classes, a newsletter, and professional certification.
Baby sign language classes are increasingly popular. They are offered by private certified instructors, colleges, resource centers for deaf and hard of hearing people, recreation departments, and other community resources.

Toddlers Signing

Use of baby signing does not have to end as the baby grows older. Toddlers can continue to use baby sign language. Your toddler can even enjoy nursery rhymes in sign language. Visitors on Baby Signing visitors have written to describe their experiences with baby signing:

"I have long had an interest in sign language and decided early on that I would attempt to teach sign to my babies. I began signing milk to my infant daughter when she was about four months and by the age of six months, it was the source of much amusement in our family to see her response when I would sign milk. She would bounce up and down in the arms of whoever held her and generally act excited.

However, she learned to talk at a very early age, and since I had no deaf friends or family I quickly focused on other things and signing was relegated to the back shelf.

When my next child was born, I began signing to him, again right from birth. I noticed with him that he was tracking people visually from a very early age. At five and a half months, I was watching him while he was lying on the bed on his back. He was making a repetitive motion with his hands, squeezing his fists.

I brought this to my husband's attention, because babies at this age don't normally do that. He became excited and said, "You taught him that! He's signing milk!" I was floored, (my receptive skills have never been very good). He has had the largest English vocabulary of all of my children and the daughter who I taught beginning at four months has been told by many deaf people that she is a "born natural signer." Not having constant exposure to deaf friends has been a drawback, but overall the experience of teaching sign language has been a very positive one."
- C.F.


Study: Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. (July 2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK.

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