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April 11, 2004

Families say signing is better than baby talk

From: Duluth News Tribune, MN - Apr 11, 2004


BELOIT, Wis. - Christine Marie Andreola sits at the kitchen table with her mother as they begin her lessons.

"Can you say more?" Jennifer Andreola asks her 3-year-old daughter. The tiny girl puts her hands in front of her and moves them together.

Christine was getting her latest lesson in sign language. Her mother said she has been signing since she was 6 months old.

"We have used sign language since she was a baby because it's easier for her to say 'I want a drink,' than to just cry and point and have me guess what she wants," Jennifer Andreola said.

Lessetta Thompson, who has been teaching sign language to adults in Beloit for 18 years, said there are other benefits to teaching sign language to babies and toddlers.

She said there is evidence that babies who learn to sign before they can speak have higher IQs than babies who don't. Children who learn to communicate with sign language also learn to speak earlier than nonsigners and develop a larger vocabulary early on, Thompson said.

Thompson said between the age of 6 and 9 months, babies can imitate gestures and manipulate objects. They also can be taught to associate signs with expressing what they want. At an early age, babies can be taught simple signs such as "eat, milk and more." As children get older, they can learn more complicated signs. In the case of Christine Andreola, she is learning her alphabet in sign language.

"It helps the child develop, and it is less frustration for parent and child and offers more communication," Thompson said.

The idea for teaching a baby sign language class came to Thompson from Dr. Jane Fossum, a pediatrician at Beloit Clinic and Beloit Memorial Hospital. She had read about teaching sign language to babies and asked Thompson whether she ever thought of teaching babies how to sign.

Thompson began looking into the idea, researching it on the Internet and reading books about it. Soon she was getting certified as a baby sign language instructor.

Thompson is hearing impaired and is a graduate of the School for the Deaf in Delavan, Wis.

© 2004 Duluth News Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.