Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When do the benefits of baby signing wear off?

I've been wondering how long baby signing will give my child an edge before everything evens out between her and her non-signing counterparts. Research has shown that signing babies have a larger vocabulary both spoken and understood at least until they are three. There is one study that concludes that children who signed as infants have higher IQs than their classmates at age 8.

Results of the study revealed that 24-month-old signing babies were on average talking more like 27- or 28-month-olds, representing more than a three-month advantage over the non-signers. The babies who signed were also putting together significantly longer sentences. In addition, 36-month-old signers on average were talking like 47-month-olds, putting them almost a full year ahead of their average age mates. At 8 years, those who had signed as babies scored an average of 12 points higher in IQ on the WISC-III than their non-signing peers. Acredolo and Goodwyn
But I've heard from other mothers (I haven't seen any research) that children even out by third grade. The early achievers are at the same point as those who achieved within the normal time frame.

So, I want to know, will sign language benefit my daughter in the long run? I loved the early communication it gave us when she was a baby. I love the expanded spoken vocabulary she has now and her ability to interact with others. I love how sign language is opening up her understanding and interest in the written word and finger spelling. But, if all that won't matter after 3rd grade, will it be worth it to continue it after we can understand all her spoken words?

Don't get me wrong. I don't plan on quitting (unless the research indicates otherwise), but I just wonder. Because that's what I'm good at: wondering.

I posed this question to Andrea Burton Ploehn at Signing 4 Baby (visit her blog to see how I phrased the question to her). Here's her answer:

Thanks for emailing me, I love talking about sign language. As far as any research that I’ve read about child development advances in connection with using sign language, I have only seen studies that are documented up to the age of 8, like you said. I’m not aware of any other studies that have tracked a group of children past that point.

If you want my personal opinion though, I think that there are so many other benefits connected with using sign language as a child that last a life time. Besides the academic benefits of early reading skills, spelling advancements, language development, and enhanced verbal abilities, etc… I feel that signing with children allows for them to develop abilities that aren’t typically documented by research. For instance, the ability for the child to connect in unique ways with others and build greater self esteem, increasing memory storage and problem solving abilities, learning to communicate and problem solve in multiple ways (visual, audio, and sensory), and learning a second recognized language, etc…

So to answer the question, when does it “wear off”, I honestly don’t think it does. No matter what, children that use sign language are being exposed to a unique and special way of communicating that I feel gives them the “upper hand” in child development.

I've also posed my question to Baby Signs (the originators of baby signing for hearing infants without deaf parents). I'm going to pose this question to several others. I'll post their answers as I get them.

What do you think?