I've created a sign language monster! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 12-22-2011, 08:26 PM - Thread Starter
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A few weeks ago I was posting here because I was worried that our daughter (now 11m) wasn't catching on to the sign language that I had been using with her for several months, but suddenly she is responding to and using the signs "milk" and "more" (although I think she uses "more" more generally to mean food?).  The problem now is that she signs milk about every 10 minutes whenever she and I are together, and she will often sign milk or more at totally impossible times, like in the middle of a messy diaper change, or in the middle of a walk, or after she's already nursed three times in a row, or after she's finished eating and is already throwing all the food I give her onto the floor. 

 

On the one hand, I want to reinforce the new skill of signing by rewarding her immediately whenever she uses a sign, so that she knows that she has used it correctly and that I'm listening to her.  On the other hand, I don't want to train her to ask for milk every ten minutes, or to get the idea that Mommy always has to do what she says!  I've tried signing "wait" to her, but that just makes her mad.  If she were older, I would say something to acknowledge her request but explain briefly why we needed to wait, and then I'd try to engage her with a fun toy instead.  But I don't know how to do that at her level.  I don't want to just distract or ignore her, because I'm concerned that she will think that we don't understand her, or don't listen to her, but I don't know how to acknowledge her request to show her that I've heard her and then move on to something else in a way that she will understand.  For those of you who used sign language with your kiddos, what did you do in this kind of situation? 

 

Thanks for reading my post!

 


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#2 of 15 Old 12-22-2011, 11:20 PM
 
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The thing about having a signing baby/toddler is that it relieves a lot of the frustration of not being understood, like they say, but then you get to fast track to the frustration of them being understood but still not getting what they want.  Still, it does make things easier, and anyway it's well worth it for the confidence they gain through having their attempts at communication work.

 

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If she were older, I would say something to acknowledge her request but explain briefly why we needed to wait, and then I'd try to engage her with a fun toy instead.

 


 

That's pretty much exactly what I did with my sign language monster.  With the addition that I always signed as much as possible along with what I said to him.  He seemed to understand much more when I did.  It's not necessarily going to help that much in the moment, but it felt like the right way to go about encouraging his attempts at communication while also teaching him about how we'd be communicating in the future.  And the more times you do it, the more she'll understand.  It seems to have worked pretty well for us.

 

Also, if the only signs she's doing so far are "milk" and "more", she may be substituting "milk" for other things she wants to say.  I know my son, even when he was doing hundreds of signs, would still use "milk" and "mama" interchangeably...actually, I was usually just "milk" most of the time.

 


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#3 of 15 Old 12-23-2011, 07:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reply, cloudbutterfly - it's really encouraging to hear your experience.  I have been kind of trying what you suggest, but I guess we just have to give it time - I feel so mean saying things to her that I know she doesn't understand yet!  We have been speculating that she may be using "more" more like "I want" or "give me that," but it may only be associated with food...  I have wondered if she always means milk when she signs "milk," but I've had a hard time figuring out what else she might mean when she is signing it, if it isn't actually milk.  She definitely signs "milk" a lot when she is ready for sleep, which makes sense since I usually nurse her down.  She seems so uninterested in signs that don't involve food, though!  She will occasionally mirror a sign I make, more I think because she thinks it is fun to imitate than because she understands them.  I have to come up with other signs that she will actually be interested in learning...

 

I laughed out loud when you mentioned how your son used the words "mama" and "milk" interchangeably - even though our daughter doesn't do that (yet!), I definitely feel that she looks at the world the same way!


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#4 of 15 Old 12-23-2011, 11:57 PM
 
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That all sounds really familiar.  DS definitely used "more" to mean "I want" at first.  He then made up his own sign for "I want" at some point...geez, I can't remember it now!  Sad how quickly things change so completely!

 

 

Don't feel mean saying things she can't understand!  She'll understand your tone, and that will help her guess a bit of your meaning and learn the words.  You can read about it ahead of time, but it's just amazing to watch them soak up everything so quickly.  Signing with DS really opened our eyes because it let us see just how much he understood how young.  Now, being biased parents we think he's a smart kid, but I'm guessing that most pre-verbal children understand way more than people realize.

 

Anyway, I'd just keep explaining things to her and give it time.  Like with signing, it may seem like she's not getting it, but one day she just will, and then things will change.  The thing I've learned from a year of toddlerhood is that there tend to be these periods where kids "level up"...they are totally different creatures all of a sudden, and you think everything is broken forever and you'll never be a halfway competent parent again. And then you figure it out, and things are okay.  A breakthrough in signing definitely counts as one!  You guys will figure it out before you know it.  I speak with optimism because we just came through one of these periods.  ;)

 

 

(You may have gotten this recommendation to your previous post, but if you are open to watching videos with your daughter, I HIGHLY recommend the Signing Time series.  Our local library had all of them.  I was going to do no TV until 2, but those changed my mind.  DS started signing back at about 8 1/2 months, but around your daughter's age or maybe a month younger, I decided to try one, and seeing the other babies signing really made something click in his brain, like he suddenly realized, "Hey, that's why Mama keeps moving her hands like that!"  He doubled his signing vocabulary every month for several months after that, until we ran out of signs and I didn't have time to learn any more.  Granted, he was born trying to communicate so he was extra motivated to learn, but I really feel that this particular show is high quality and of great benefit at that age.  I'd start with Baby Signing Time #1 or Signing Time:  Let's Eat, since she's interested in food!  The other thing that really helped was learning as many signs as I could to sign along when I read his favorite books to him.  That meant he learned the signs for the things he wanted to talk about.)

 


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#5 of 15 Old 12-24-2011, 07:25 AM
 
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Thanks for the reply, cloudbutterfly - it's really encouraging to hear your experience.  I have been kind of trying what you suggest, but I guess we just have to give it time - I feel so mean saying things to her that I know she doesn't understand yet!  We have been speculating that she may be using "more" more like "I want" or "give me that," but it may only be associated with food...  I have wondered if she always means milk when she signs "milk," but I've had a hard time figuring out what else she might mean when she is signing it, if it isn't actually milk.  She definitely signs "milk" a lot when she is ready for sleep, which makes sense since I usually nurse her down.  She seems so uninterested in signs that don't involve food, though!  She will occasionally mirror a sign I make, more I think because she thinks it is fun to imitate than because she understands them.  I have to come up with other signs that she will actually be interested in learning...

 

I laughed out loud when you mentioned how your son used the words "mama" and "milk" interchangeably - even though our daughter doesn't do that (yet!), I definitely feel that she looks at the world the same way!



What I realized is that my DS understood so much more than I realized. I thought he didn't understand me, but then he would do something that made it clear that he did. I really think he understood just about everything I said by the time he was 15mo. He couldn't say it back to me (and we didn't sign), but just because he couldn't say it didn't mean he didn't understand.

 

The other thing to consider, is that she won't learn to understand certain words until after you start using them when you talk to her. If you wait until she understands, you'll be waiting forever because you are her teacher - it may take a while for her to learn it, but you have to talk to her in order for her to learn.

 

Also, I bet she DOES understand the wait sign, and I bet she doesn't want to wait which is why she gets mad.

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#6 of 15 Old 12-25-2011, 05:39 PM
 
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My DD definetely used the milk sign to mean mom when she was upset and/or needed comfort. She just now (at two) started signing sleep but then again she can say sleep so we're a bit past that at this point. She also signed primarily for food until we started using the signs all the time for other things. She picked up on "all done" very quickly after that. She never really got "more" or "food." But "milk" and "all done" were used almost every day. Good luck. And just remember you don't have to nurse her every time she asks. And you can say "all done" too so that she understands what the sign means.


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#7 of 15 Old 01-04-2012, 03:58 PM - Thread Starter
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cloudbutterfly, thanks for the encouragement! I've been looking in to the Signing Time videos and I have noticed that there are two kinds: ones with the title Signing Time and ones with the title Baby Signing Time - which ones did you think were good for a baby around 11-12 months? I think from your description that you meant the baby ones, but since I'm just looking at their descriptions online, I can't be totally sure...

supersinglemama, I smiled at your comment about her really understanding the wait sign - maybe you are right! You and cloudbutterfly's comments about how babies seem to understand a lot more than we think reminded me of some memories from my own childhood - I still remember being in my high chair at the breakfast table when my mom criticized my dad for eating his sausage by spearing the whole thing with a fork and biting off pieces from the fork - he said something like, "but there is no one here to see!" and my mom said something about my being there and his having to set a good example, and them my dad said something like, "she doesn't know enough to know the difference," and I never said anything at the time, but I remember thinking clearly, "Why do they think I can't understand what they are saying? And why on earth would they think that I think it's ok to eat that way - of course I know that you are not supposed to do that!" I don't think I was exactly pre-verbal at that age (this was sometime 3 yrs old or younger, I don't remember exactly), but clearly I understood more than my parents thought I did. smile.gif I still wonder why I didn't pipe up...

Faither, thanks for sharing your experience - I'm glad to hear that you got your LO to start using other signs. We are still sticking to just milk and more (still using more to mean "I want" or "give me that"), but I keep trying to use other signs and hope that she will use them, too. It seems to be hard to pick ones that she wants to use, though - She is obsessed with our dog, and other dogs on the street, but I've been signing dog for over three months and aside from imitating me once, she never uses it. I've also tried all done for a while, but that never seems to catch on - I wonder if maybe she never wants to be all done. smile.gif I thought she might want to use out (as in take me out of the stroller, highchair, etc) and up and down (as in pick me up or put me down), since she does often communicate these things with grunts and other unpleasant noises, but no luck so far.

If anyone still wants to chime in, once your LO started to sign at all, at what kind of rate did they pick up new signs? I'm curious about what to expect with our LO (and I'm trying to figure out how many signs to use at this point - should I stick to only 5ish, or is it better to do as many as possible? I just don't want to overwhelm her, and it can be hard to sign every few words when often your hands are full!)

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#8 of 15 Old 01-04-2012, 11:18 PM
 
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You're welcome!  We were really blown away by the impact of signing with DS on our lives, so I enjoy encouraging others to really give it a good try.

 

I started out liking the Baby Signing Time ones better, but as his word explosion started, the regular Signing Time ones were more worthwhile because they had two or three (or more) times as many signs as the Baby Signing Time videos.  But to begin with, I think the Baby Signing Time videos are probably more effective, just because they get to see very young toddlers signing on them, and simple is better until they get the idea of it all.  Of the regular Signing Time series, our favorites are Leah's Farm, The Great Outdoors, Zoo Train, My Neighborhood, My House, Helping Out Around the House, Box of Colors, and, of course, Time to Eat.  And the birthday one, whatever that one is called.  Two that I don't really recommend for pre-verbal infants are the Once Upon a Time and Who's Got the Frog? episodes...DS is old enough for the concepts in them to interest him now that he's speaking, but they were too abstract before that point.

 

Since I'm weird and obsessive, I kept a list of the signs he learned and numbered it.  smile.gif  Here's the number of signs he learned at each age:

8 months - 7;  9 months - 1 (but he also did his first 2-sign combo); 10 months - 17 (started watching Signing Time this month); 11 months: 65; 12 months:  84; and at that point I lost precise count.  By 18 months old, he knew [i]a lot[/i] of signs.  So, there was a plateau after the first handful of signs (that was almost more frustrating than the last month before he signed back), and then a word explosion at about the same time he started watching Signing Time, though I think it was a combination of that and a developmental leap.

 

Once he started signing back, I gave him as many signs as I could fit into our day.  He seemed to really benefit from that, though I'm sure different kids would have different reactions so it could have been overwhelming to another child.  But, think about how they learn spoken language...from us just talking and talking.  We don't stick to five words until they can say them all, right?  winky.gif  Another tip I picked up early on was when you only have one hand free, you can still do a one-handed version of the sign.

 

Which sign for "dog" are you using?  There are two (sort of three)...one is like snapping your fingers, the other is patting your leg (and then you can pat and snap as well).  We had better luck teaching DS the patting version.

 

Oh, and if she's already communicating a concept with a grunt and getting what she wants out of it, she may not do that sign until much later.


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#9 of 15 Old 01-04-2012, 11:30 PM
 
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My son only did 3 signs at 12 months, and only one was especially useful ("more" -  the others were "dog" and "ceiling fan").  However, at around 13 months, he started picking them up like crazy, combining them into sentences, etc...  He probably knew around 100 at his peak at around 18 months, but never learned many more, because he was picking up verbal language well enough that I didn't really bother to learn more myself, and then he gradually forgot them.

 

My daughter is 12 months right now, and can do maybe 4 signs consistently  (that I understand, anyway), and maybe 6 or 7 sporadic and unclear ones.  I think she's on the verge of having an explosion of them soon, though. 

 

I think baby signing is portrayed in a misleading way to many people.  It's advertised that 6 month olds are signing, and some do, but I don't think that's average.  In my experience, and for others I've known, signing is most useful between 1 and 2 years old, when a kid can pick up a lot of signs and really wants to communicate, but might not have the best verbal vocab or pronunciation.

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#10 of 15 Old 01-06-2012, 11:53 AM
 
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I empathize w/ your frustration, OP, and appreciate some of the advice you've gotten in the thread (and will be watching it).

DD (15 months) also signs, and our current signing "issue" is that she thinks that if she signs "please" for something, it automatically means that her wish is our command.  Basically, I feel like "please" has become synonymous with "gimme now!"  ... when all I wanted was for her to be polite!  Lol.

 

I usually just explain in a tone I hope she'll understand why she has to wait, or can't have something.  Great idea about starting to use the sign for wait.  Going to get on top of that right away!


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#11 of 15 Old 01-08-2012, 11:11 AM - Thread Starter
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cloudbutterfly, thanks again for all your detail!  I found the signing time videos on amazon instant play, and I think we will try one or two of the baby ones to see how that goes!  Thanks for the tip on doing a one handed version of signs when your hands are full.  Since I carry DD everywhere, it's often hard to do some signs, since I can't get my hands around her and in a place that is visible. :)  For the dog sign, I've been doing the snapping version, since for the patting version, I could never get her to look down towards my knee where you are supposed to do it, but maybe now that she is older it would work.  I've sometimes wondered if she can't tell the difference between certain hand motions - she may have done the milk sign back to the snapping dog sign a few times (not sure), but I wondered if she thought that was the same sign.  I think also when I tried to do the out sign, she may have thought it was just another version of the more sign, since that's what she did back to me.  But she did do the snapping dog sign back to me once, so I know it is theoretically possible for her to get that one!  It's weird - she is actually able to communicate quite well with grunting and complaining noises and her two favorite signs for milk and more that maybe she doesn't think she needs other signs...  I'm hoping that will change...

 

mckittre and Lyndzies, thanks for sharing your experiences!  It really helps to hear from other people what their kids actually do, since it helps me to know better what to expect!  I think our DD would probably sign more if I had been signing a ton of signs all the time, but the books said not to overwhelm them and to pick around 5-8 signs and stick with those - I've done more than that, but didn't really get into signing everything I could think of right away because I wasn't sure what I was doing.  (Also, she's already getting three spoken languages thrown at her constantly - husband and MIL are Swiss, so we have multiple native languages going on - and I don't want to totally overwhelm the poor kiddo!  I've been expecting her not to speak verbally for ages, although I have read that the sign language can help with that multilingual language delay, so we'll see...)

 

I'll report back if/when we have success with getting her to sign something other than more and milk. :)  Thanks again for all the replies!


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#12 of 15 Old 01-08-2012, 07:43 PM
 
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My oldest used a lot of signs.  At 18 mos she had about 50 signs, and even start stringing them together right before she started using spoken words. 

 

A few thoughts:  

Maybe the idea that the sign *always* means something is still something she is processing.  

A "Milk" sign could just mean that she sees your breasts, or as a pp said, is using "milk" to mean "mama".

At 13 months, my daughter tapped her fist to her jaw, and it meant :

     "cat", because the sign for cat is by the cheek

     "girl"  same reason

     "eat"

and I think a few others as well.

 

Tapping hands together meant "more" or "catch" or "ball", all similar.

 

My second daughter used "more" a few times and then started talking.  She never caught on that well with signs.  Ah, well, so different!

 


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#13 of 15 Old 01-08-2012, 09:47 PM
 
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We also experienced the same "sign" being several different signs.  I'd recognize them by context, but to an outsider they all looked the same.  Much as with early spoken words, where "ba" or "cuh" meant about fifteen different words for several months, he'd do what I'd call a "master sign" that would stand for several similar signs, as if he had been waiting to sign all of those things and that was the first thing he could do that was close to any of them.  Then he'd go through a fine motor skills leap, and they'd differentiate a bit, and then a bit more.

 

Come to think of it, I think with the patting version of the dog sign, I grabbed DS's hand and patted it against his own leg.  I did a lot of signing on DS's body from behind him.


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#14 of 15 Old 01-09-2012, 09:21 AM
 
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If anyone still wants to chime in, once your LO started to sign at all, at what kind of rate did they pick up new signs? I'm curious about what to expect with our LO (and I'm trying to figure out how many signs to use at this point - should I stick to only 5ish, or is it better to do as many as possible? I just don't want to overwhelm her, and it can be hard to sign every few words when often your hands are full!)


At 12 mos I was still concerned with overwhelming my son with signs, since he would still only use a few (milk, more, dog, cat) but very soon after he had this burst and it was like I could not keep up with him.  We went from about 10 signs that we'd planned to introduce first to maybe 20 or 25 in a few weeks. He expected a sign for every animal in "brown bear, brown bear" and a little more recently has started making up his own signs and then getting extremely irritated when I have no freaking clue what he is trying to say.  Now, at 17 mos he is starting to put words with his signs, but I have not noticed him attempting any words that he does not already have a sign for, so I am curious if I will have to learn the whole ASL dictionary before this little guy will proceed with language development.  smile.gif I've just been trying to count up and we probably have about 40-45 that we use regularly at this point.  DS doesn't use all of them all the time, but he definitely understands them and responds to them.

 

So you might try using more for a few days or a weeks and see if your LO responds.  I certainly had periods where DS didn't seem that interested where I just used the ones we'd already learned, but it has become more and more a part of our every day communication and interaction such that he expects to learn a sign or two when we encounter new situations.  This means I have to be prepared or quickly whip out my smartphone in all kinds of situations!  Not nec the easiest, but DS's satisfaction at having a sign for new things is worth it to me.


knit.gifMama to DS born 8/6/10 and new baby DD 1/6/13

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#15 of 15 Old 01-11-2012, 01:25 PM - Thread Starter
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SweetSilver, yes - I think this is probably happening with our daughter, but I just can't tell which signs she means other than milk and more!  cloudbutterfly, I've tried doing the dog sign for her on her body (am now trying the patting sign again instead of the snap), so we'll see if that helps anything to click!  rudhaen, I love your description of how your son would make up his own signs. :)  Thanks for sharing your experience.  Our DD is still just sticking with the same two hand gestures, but I'm working on just using a ton of signs now and hoping that will help.  Hopefully we will get a leap like you guys have described sometime soon...  She has a cold right now and it would be really great if she were able to sign where it hurt, or what she needed. 

 

We did try watching the first baby signing time video, and DD was intrigued, but no imitating of the signs yet!


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