Toddler Communication

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!

Author: API Blog

APtly Said, Formerly API Speaks launched in April of 2008 as part of Attachment Parenting International's larger effort to offer interactive content through their newly-redesigned web site: All contributors to APtly Said, as with so many of API's staff, are volunteers who donate their time and energy to promote Attachment Parenting world wide.

5 thoughts on “Toddler Communication”

  1. I’ve been thinking about doing ALS with our new baby…but like you, had so little trouble communicating with our older kids that it seems like it might be just one more thing to pile on my already heaping plate…but your experience sounds like it was really beneficial and allowed your little one to engage in more complex and enriched communication with you.

    I might have to take the time to do this now! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Littlepixie loves to babble and is gradually making real words. She gets frustrated if we don’t understand her, so I’m so glad she knows a few signs, “milk”, “food”, “water”, and the most important of all “all done”, that one alone has thwarted many a tantrum!

  3. We’ve been teaching DS sign language since he was 7 months old. Now, at 18 months, he knows 75+ words. It’s wonderful, especially since he’s a high-needs kiddo who, I believe, has wanted to communicate “like a grown up” since birth (lol!). It wasn’t until about 2 1/2 months ago that he started saying words, though. I’m not sure if introducing him to ASL slowed the talking process or not? Either way, I’m still so glad we did it. And, really, it was relatively easy to learn. I just kept a how-to ASL website up all the time and would refer to it when a word that I didn’t know came up. ASL is very intuitive, thankfully. 🙂

  4. I used ASL with both my kids, and it was most definitely beneficial for us! I loved that they were able to communicate what was going on in their heads, such as what they were thinking about or what they were looking at.

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