The short answer is no. But on a daily basis we receive questions from moms and dads concerned about the long-term impact of signing for babies when it comes to actually speaking. Research points to the contrary. Gestural communication is not only useful in the learning of spoken language but it is key as a young person begins to learn the nuances of non-verbal communication. Effective non-verbal communication is essential in the way we engage with others and used effectively it is a tool that distinguishes effective leaders from others. As our babies grow they will naturally transition from signs into words but will continue to use their hands and facial expressions to highlight and emphasize their message.
A few days ago I received this letter from a mom which I found quite encouraging and I wanted to share with you mainly to help you feel confident as you move forward in encouraging pre-verbal communication.
My baby Sammy is now 22 months. I am a typical mom and as far as we knew Sammy was a typical baby. Wanting to give him a head start my DH, grandma and I started signing to Sammy when he was four months old. By his 9th month Sammy knew about 8 signs. His repertoire included mommy, daddy, milk, more etc. DH and I were thrilled and bragged to no end.
Both DH and I were early speakers. Saying our first words before turning one. When Sammy turned 14 months we began to worry. All we had was silence. No cooing no loud babbling and most certainly no mama or papa. While we worried about this we were mystified by his ever-increasing BSL vocabulary. He kept delighting us in context and out of context.
By his 16th month we began to worry. My dad suggested we had provided a language crutch by teaching him baby signing and I would take lots of discipline if not a miracle to make him speak. He could certainly hear us and there was no doubt little Sammy had a healthy tongue and by now he had several teeth.
Fearing a life of silence I began to fuzz and stopped signing. I even went to your Facebook page and shared my burden with your community. By our request our pediatrician referred us to a speech therapist specializing in babies.
After running a battery of tests the therapist determined our baby had Apraxia. She was delighted to know and see that Sammy had a rather rich sign language vocabulary and commended us in our proactive approach to helping him communicate.
The therapist tells us that Sammy will speak. It will be in his own timing but he will get there. Until that day mom, dad and grandma can confidently meet his needs and wants as he becomes more and more fluent with baby signing.
I am writing hoping that you would share this letter with your readers and encourage them to seek medical counsel if they see speech delays beyond the norm. I also want to tell everyone to continue signing to the little ones in their lives. It is the best parenting decision we ever made and we did not even know it!
Much love from a signing mama,