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November 26, 2003

Baby sign language workshop planned

From: Farmington Valley Post, CT - Nov 26, 2003

By:Karen Pelkey , Staff Writer

AVON - Is he hungry? Does she need her diaper changed? And what, what, can he possibly want so bad in the middle of the night that his face is red from yelling?

The frustration felt by parents of babies who wail and scream to get their attention is common but can be much alleviated by learning a new way to communicate with someone who has not yet learned to speak, according to former West Hartford resident Beryt Nisenson.

Nisenson, who now lives in Houston, said she first learned about "Baby Sign Language" from a morning talk show three years ago.

Having taught this type of sign in Texas for several years, Nisenson wanted to extend the idea to another place she saw it lacking: in and around her hometown and the Farmington Valley, which she visits frequently in order to see family who still live in the area.

On Dec. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m., Over the Moon in Old Avon Village has scheduled a workshop with Nisenson, who will teach parents, grandparents and other caregivers to use sign with the babies in their care.

Karin Leite, who owns Over the Moon, said learning more about signing with babies will work wonders for the relationship between herself and daughter Beatrice, 4 months old.

"The core of being human is to communicate," said Leite, who added that she's excited to be one of the first places in the Farmington Valley to offer the "amazing" class.

The concept of signing with baby seems simple: parents learn as many as 100 hand signs (the signs are the same used in standard American Sign Language) for feelings like hunger, sickness, pain, thirst, "want to play," or "want more." These can be picked up by children as young as six months old, and are successful on children who are older than one year, said Nisenson - she learned to use sign with her son, Josh, when he was just 7 months old. She said Josh will be 2 years old next month, and already knows 80 to 100 signs.

"At seven to nine months, (children have) enough gross motor control and conceptual ability to use signs to the best of their advantage, but speaking develops slowly from 1 to 3 years old; so a baby could have 30 or so signs by (as soon as) 12 months rather than just a few words by three or four years," said Nisenson, who added it's not difficult to practice with your child if you simply "learn how to integrate it into what you're already doing."

Nisenson's foray into the world of sign began with what she saw as a real lack of knowledge in the Houston area. Even now, when people catch her signing with Josh, they ask her if he's deaf. He's not.

"It's kind of getting more and more common, but people always ask," said Nisenson.

After forming a free support group for other mothers in the Houston area who were interested in learning sign, Nisenson took things to the next level. She already had degrees in journalism and linguistics, with a working knowledge of five languages, but wanted to do more with ASL. After completing a certification program called Signing Smart, she formed her own Imagination Signers, and now does baby signing workshops with parents, grandparents and other caregivers. The workshops teach key strategies for signing with your baby, complete with real-life demonstrations of signing on video. The sessions provide caregivers with tips for recognizing signs when babies use them, and introduce more than 40 family-friendly ASL signs.

"Sign language kind of gives the parent a window into what their child is thinking," said Nisenson. "You miss meaningful interactions if you don't know what they're saying."

There are still several open slots to fill for the Tuesday, Dec. 2 class. Registration is $80 per couple (which could be a child's mother and father, or mother/nanny, any combination of caregivers is welcome), and should be done by phone at (860) 676-9599 or in person during store hours.

For more information about Nisenson and signing with your baby, visit For more information about signing with baby and other upcoming classes, such as Adoption 101, at Over the Moon, visit

©Farmington Valley Post 2003 , 2003