Our Decision to Try Infant Sign Language

Oct 15, 2013

Infant sign language has become trendy in the past few years. There are tons of resources online and even more classes in the community for families who want to learn. But teaching Stephanie sign language as an infant was never my plan. I think it's a valuable skill, but so is speaking French. If I had planned on teaching her a second language at this age, I would have chosen French before sign language because I know way more about it. Stephanie, however, isn't comfortable using her words so we decided that it's time to develop her non-verbal communication by learning proper American Sign Language. According to the experts, at her age (almost 3), Stephanie should:

  • Have a vocabulary of up to 200 words
  • Be able to say two-syllable words
  • Express wants/desires by stringing a few words together
  • Identify and say body parts
  • Communicate clearly to strangers 75% of the time.

Stephanie doesn't do most of that stuff. As our Occupational Therapist says: "She didn't read that textbook, so let's find another way to help her grow."

Sign language is new to everyone in my family. Currently we use her version of signing and that works really well for us. She understands very complex language and will complete tasks when we ask her to. I don't know why she won't speak, so the least I can do is teach her how to communicate effectively with others through sign language. Sign language is a lot of fun to learn. It's outside of my realm of experience but it is teaching me how to relate to my daughter on her terms. I am uncovering a lot about her learning style and what is important to her as far as communication goes. She enjoys imitating, so the lessons are going well so far. I hope that eventually she'll use her words in addition to her signs but for the time being, this is working and that is enough.

Yes, it's forcing me out of my comfort zone but it's bringing us together in ways that I never could have imagined. Communication truly is the key to a happy family; no matter how you do it. 


Beverley MacNeill lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband, daughter and two cats. Bev is a stay-at-home who relies heavily on humour to survive the challenges of raising a daughter with special needs. Prior to motherhood, Bev worked as a technical writer in the financial services industry, and is a trained chef.


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