When my daughter Erika was a baby, several of my new mom-friends were practicing sign language with their children, but I was never interested. I really couldn’t figure out what the benefit would be, as it didn’t seem to me that I had any trouble understanding what she was trying to communicate. She pointed at things she wanted, made gestures and vocalizations, and by the time she was 15 months old, used several words on a regular basis. Besides, we were already speaking two languages with her, and I wasn’t sure adding a third into the mix would be all that helpful.
Fast forward a couple of years, and we had a different situation with our son Karl. At fifteen months, he wasn’t using any words on a regular basis, and was screaming at the dinner table in frustration at his inability to express his needs. So I introduced sign language, which he embraced with enthusiasm. Within two days, he was regularly using one sign. Within a week, half a dozen. In a month, a dozen. He can now tell me about birds, dogs, motorcycles, cars, airplanes, and a variety of food-related desires. I find that our communication is indeed richer than what I experienced with my daughter at this age, and that I’m learning more about his thoughts than I would have otherwise.
For example, I had no idea that he anticipated seeing motorcycles at a particular place until the day he made the sign for motorcycle before their usual parking spot was even in view. And I was amazed the first time I put him down, seemingly asleep after a car ride, only to see him furiously signing for milk with his eyes tightly shut. I don’t regret not using sign language with my daughter, as I feel that it was the right decision for our family at the time. I also know other children Karl’s age whose interest in sign language is very limited, so it’s clear to me that his enthusiasm isn’t universal. But I’m certainly glad I paid attention to my son’s frustration and was aware of a tool that might help!