If you're a parent, you probably remember the very first time your baby waved hello to you. Now, developmental experts say building on that simple gesture can help parents talk with their baby before the child actually says a word.
Doctors who've been studying the effects of teaching sign language to babies say the practice can improve the bond that exists between babies and their parents.
"What we know about infants in their very first years of life is, they're very frustrated because they can't communicate," said Dr. Linda Acredolo, co-founder of the Baby Signs Institute. "So by providing them with very simple signs, like the deaf community uses, we find that we can lower frustration and really make a bond that's warm and rich between parent and child."
Long before he could talk, Alex Theg, now 16, was communicating using sign language. His mother, Jill Theg, says the experience made those early years more enjoyable.
"It's just so hard when you know your kid wants something but you don't know what it is and they're trying so hard to get you to understand. But Baby Signs just made it easy," Theg said.
Alex is one of 140 sign language babies followed by researchers for the past 16 years as part of a long-term study on the effects of signing with babies.
These days, Alex is an A student who is outgoing and involved in athletics. Acredolo says children like Alex, who've learned sign language at an early age, seem to be high achievers.
Acredolo says when these children had their IQs tested at 8 years old, they scored an average of 12 points higher than the control group. She says the same children also achieved higher-than-average scores on their SATs
As interest in baby sign language has grown over the years, more workshops have popped up across the country, where parents hope to bridge that frustrating communication gap with children as young as six months old.
Melanie Suhrada says signing has already made life with her baby boy easier.
"We were at the carousel at the mall about a week ago and he was giving me the 'no more, no more' [sign] and I was able to get him just about to the car before he started to have his breakdown." Suhrada said. "So it's very functional for me and a confidence boost for him."
"Good Morning America" parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy says most parents use signs to try to communicate with babies every day, but using sign language takes it one step further. Murphy says the key to making signing work is repetition. Murphy says every time parents use a sign, they should also say the corresponding word and then give the baby what he or she wants.
Murphy says research reveals only a positive effect when baby sign language is used. She says parents should not be concerned that signing will delay speaking in any way.
Most importantly, Acredolo says years of research shows that using sign language with babies will help parents and children enjoy a better relationship.
"There's no doubt in our minds that the most important message for parents is to know that the signing will help you and your baby connect in a richer way," Acredolo said. "The social and emotional benefits to the family are really a most important advantage of signing with your baby."
For more information, go to www.babysigns.com.