Babies in Limerick are communicating with their parents before they have learned to talk thanks to baby sign language – an international phenomenon which allows toddlers to clearly communicate specific thoughts, needs and wants before speech.
Already extremely popular in the US and across Europe, baby sign language is beginning to take off in Ireland.
To the forefront of this is SuperHands – a company promoting sign language - which has just published Ireland’s first illustrated baby sign dictionary.
The bright and colourful board book introduces parents and their little ones to the first forty signs they will need to communicate with each other. From food and drink to fun toys and animals this book will get parents communicating with their infants before they can even talk.
The founder of SuperHands, Miriam Devitt - who penned the book - teaches baby sign language at the Parent and Baby Centre in Ballysimon.
“There are usually about 10 in the class from new borns up to about two years. I started there in January of this year. There is great feedback. The main advantage to the signing is the immediate reduction in frustration and tantrums. When a baby expects to be understood then they are calmer in any situation,” she explained.
Miriam, originally from Sandymount on Dublin’s southside moved to County Clare five years ago and now resides in Killimer with her husband Conan Brophy who is station manager of Radio Corca Baiscinn in west Clare and their three-year-old daughter Robin.
“I can’t actually remember how I found out about baby sign language originally, I probably read about it on-line and as soon as I had Robin, I knew I wanted to start signing with her. I was signing away with her from birth, really slowly.”
While a baby won’t be able to physically sign until six or seven months old, parents can introduce signs earlier – they will understand them from three or four months. As their speech develops toddlers tend to sign less.
“It’s incredible. It’s an insight into their brains really, to see how much they can understand. Robin did her first sign at seven months and by nine or 10 months she was doing quite a few signs. Her first sign was ‘milk’. By 10 months she was putting a few signs together and trying to speak with it. I remember carrying her in the sling when she was nine months and she was signing ‘bird’ - she wasn’t able to say the word. A big flock of birds flew past us,” Miriam explained.
“Robin will sign occasionally now for emphasis or fun or if she cant’’hear me if she is out in the garden.”
And for parents who may be worried that using sign language with their babies may lead to developmental delay in their speech, they can rest assured, according to Miriam.
“You are not replacing spoken language with sign - you are using them side by side,” she assured.
“There is no developmental delay in speech. It’s the opposite in fact. The research would show that babies who sign, tend to speak earlier because you are backing up the synoptic paths in their brain. Language follows movement and if you are putting the movement with the language so they are hearing it and seeing it when they sign it they are actually feeling it kinetically”.
Miriam uses ISL, Irish Sign Language, the language of Ireland’s deaf community.
Baby sign language, she says, can reduce a baby’s frustration, enhance confidence, increase the parent-child bond, accelerate speech and reduce temper tantrums. “Above all, however, it’s about spending enjoyable, quality time with your baby,” said Miriam.
The SuperHands baby sign language illustrated dictionary can be per-ordered now on www.superhands.ie and will be available from local book stores from October.