I knew I wanted to use American Sign Language (ASL) with my baby before I was even pregnant. I don't know where I first heard of using it with babies, but something about sign language has always appealed to me. It may have to do with all of the fantastic work that's done with primates (I was an anthropology major in undergrad) or the fact that my girlfriend and I would pretend we were deaf at clubs in college to get ugly guys to leave us alone (our interpreter would explain that we danced by feeling the bass). So when Nate came along, I jumped at the chance to find out more about signing.
My primary goal in using sign language with Nate is to enable him to be able to communicate with us before he's able to speak. Not only is it cool, but it's supposed to minimize frustration and promote bonding. That's enough for me, but I also discovered that there are a ton of other benefits. Hearing babies who sign tend to have much bigger vocabularies, higher IQs, develop both sides of their brain at a higher rate and do better at reading and spelling.
Once your baby starts signing back, it is absolutely amazing. As I mentioned in an earlier post (here), Nate made his first sign MORE at 10 months. He can now tell me when he wants more of something, but he also uses it as a general "I want that" statement. It is much more preferable to grunting and pointing (although there is plenty of that too). Shortly after, he started signing FAN, which was not surprising since he has been obsessed with the ceiling fans all of his life. He has now added WASHING MACHINE (click here for the sign) of all things to his regular repertoire and HAT (pat your head twice). Occasionally he'll sign other things when he sees me do it, but they haven't made it as regulars yet.
The drawbacks? Well contrary to popular belief, it won't take your baby longer to talk (as long as you always speak while signing). You may, however, have to explain 50 to 60 times a day that yes, the washing machine is over there, but no, Mommy is not doing any laundry today.