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October 21, 2002

Signing jump-starts babies' early communication

From: Everett Herald, WA
Oct. 21, 2002

By Shannon Sessions
For The Herald

There is a particular span of time that is frustrating for parent and child -- maybe even more so for the child.

It is the time between when children begin communicating non-verbally and when they speak in words. To communicate, the child screams, cries, or has a tantrum. The parent is left to figure out if the baby just needs a drink of milk or her gums hurt from teething.

There is an alternative: baby sign language.

"Signing with hearing babies allows them to express emotions, feelings, needs and to increase engagement by lowering the stress in family," said Nancy Hanauer, an Edmonds resident who teaches sign language to hearing families with babies in north King and south Snohomish counties. She runs a class at the Frances Anderson Center in Edmonds and teaches the same course in homes, child care centers and schools.

Hanauer, a state certified teacher, has spent much of her life instructing the deaf and hearing children who struggle with reading. She started teaching the "Signing With Your Baby" course two years ago.

The American Sign Language course, called "Sign With Your Baby," was created by Joseph Garcia of Bellingham.

Garcia said teaching hearing parents and babies sign language makes adults better parents.

"Signing is a gift from the deaf to the hearing," Garcia said. "I believe (being deaf) is not a symbol of a disability but one of an ability."

Garcia started the program after years of teaching sign language. As he taught special education, early childhood development and adult education, he realized teaching hearing adults to sign to hearing babies would help resolve some daily stress.

Garcia knows the ups and downs of parenting. He and his wife have two teenage children and an adopted 10-month-old.

Garcia said he started early in teaching signing to his new baby.

"Don't wait until they are expressing signs to start teaching," Garcia said.

Just because your baby isn't signing back doesn't mean she doesn't understand far more than she indicates, he said.

Skeptics have said that teaching children to sign will delay them from talking. But Hanauer said children speak sooner because she teaches signing and speaking simultaneously.

"There's more brain activity with signing. They have to think about it, say the word and sign it," she said.

Parents in the class in Edmonds said a challenge of signing is that it won't work when the baby isn't looking. Or, since the parent can speak and hear, it is hard to remember to practice signing with the baby throughout the day.

The class is filled with parents and babies from 5 to 13 months old. Addison Turner of Lynnwood is the oldest.

Addison's grandparents, Dee and Fred Busch of Everett, care for him three days a week and have been signing to him for months.

"He understands all of the signs we do to him, and he knows a few himself and has made up his own signs," she said. "He just signed his first sentence the other day."

He was walking on a bridge over a creek, and while he usually would stick his hand in the water, he stopped and signed "water, no, cold," she said.

Some caregivers choose to include their child in the class while others learn and teach the child at home. Either way is fine, Hanauer said.

She encourages her students to stick with the basics.

"You need to have the basics to get through the rough times," she said.

Babies won't typically start to sign back until they are about 8 months to a year old.

"About the time they are waving 'hi' and 'bye' on their own," Hanauer said.

Joe and Lisa Boscacci of Mill Creek, parents of fraternal twins Gianna and Jared, learned the basics from one of Garcia's books when the twins were 8 months old, Lisa Boscacci said. That was 14 months ago.

"It was hard to stick with it, because you don't see results right away," she admitted. "Then, literally, all of a sudden, about when they turned 1 year old, they started signing back.

"I just picked five or six signs to get us through the rough times -- ones to help communicate with us before they could talk," Boscacci said.

The signs the Boscaccis picked were "eat," "more," "all done," "down," "ouch," "please" and "thank you."

"And they have made up signs of their own, and then the twins copied each other to use the signs," she said.

Copyright © 2002 The Daily Herald Co.,