This week we celebrate World Deaf Day. In honor of this I have asked my sister, Deena Wachtel, to once again guest blog for me. She has incredible experience with teaching her children ASL (American Sign Language) and wants everyone to know why she is such a supporter of it.  Enjoy!


Why I am a HUGE Supporter of ASL and Sign Language

When I was a new mom, “Baby Signs” was just coming onto the scene and I hopped on the bandwagon.  I was one of those over-bearing moms determined to cram as much information into my infant’s sponge-like brain.  I mean, aren’t we supposed to be exposing our kids to all sorts of language in the first 2 years.  My friends were taking their children to Mandarin classes, and I was half-assing baby signs at home.  So, ya… I was rocking it.

I taught my daughter a few basics — variations of the word “more” and “milk”, “please” and “thank you”, “food” and “change”.  My family laughed at me.  There was a running joke about trying to teach my daughter how to sign “corn on the cob”. 

But, my daughter was communicating with me.  Instead of crying when she was hungry, when she was 4 months old she would bang her hand on a table and then sign “milk”.  I insisted she sign “please”, which lead to her beating on her chest when she really wanted something.

I continued.  Adding modified signs when appropriate. I received lots of push back from my family – worried that her speech would be delayed without the “need” to talk.

But, one day, my 15-month old daughter looked at me, walked to the bathroom and signed the word “change”. 

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?”  I asked.

She responded with a nod.

And, except for a few accidents, that was the last time she used a diaper. 

Remarkably, the more she signed, the quicker she spoke.  It was as if the language part of her brain was activated and her mouth just needed to catch up.  By 18 months she had the vocabulary and sentence structure of a 2 1/2 year old – yet, she would still beat on her chest (indicating “please”) if she REALLY needed something.

Now in high school, my oldest is now learning ASL as her formal language study.  And, she’s AMAZING at it.  The exposure from her infancy may have helped – but I think it has more to do with the kinesthetic nature of the language – the fact that words are made by your body and not your mouth. I think it’s also why babies are able to pick up on it so much sooner than English.  Gross motor comes before fine motor skills — and, we all want our needs met.

What’s more … ASL is a great option for kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, auditory processing issues and other disabilities.  We are always trying to understand these kids, and yet, we never think about ASL.

Here’s the bottom line: WE SHOULD ALL LEARN A LITTLE SIGN LANGUAGE.   We would all benefit from being able to communicate to our friends across a crowded room, or tell someone that we feel uncomfortable if we are caught in a strange situation.  And, if learning a few key signs means that we can communicate with our babies before their mouths make intelligible sounds — that’s even better!