One of my professors from Santa Cruz started encouraging Brian and me to do sign language with Adriana last summer. His granddaughter is only a few months older than Adriana and, by nine months old, was already able to communicate a bit with it. Brian and I thought it sounded like a great idea, and in fact, I'd been occasionally signing "milk" to her before nursing since she was a few months old, but we hadn't been really dedicated about it. Eventually, though, I checked out Sign With Your Baby from the library. We read a chapter here and there, looked up a couple of signs, and then when back to just signing milk occasionally. I knew she recognized the word when I said it, but
So a week or so before Christmas, when Adriana signed milk for the first time, we were surprised and immensely pleased. After enjoying this new ability she had to communicate we started adding more signs. Soon she was pointing at the stereo and signing for music when she wanted me to turn some on, or signing when she noticed music coming on during the news in the evening. Brian is better at it than I am, pointing at something and making the sign for it over and over as they play: he is the one responsible for teaching her "ball" and "monkey," her two favorite toys.
It's fun watching her catch onto a sign, and she is learning a couple of new ones every week. Early last week I put her in her highchair and gave her a slice of cheese to snack on while I cut up some vegetables for soup. She started to fuss and I went to get her out of the chair, but then seemed to sign "eat," so I gave her another piece of cheese, which she ate happily. On Friday as I was folding laundry, Adriana kept dropping her sippy cup into the hamper, and then whining for me to get it out. Each time I went to retrieve it for her, I would ask, "Do you need me to get your water out?" putting a ridiculous amount of emphasis on "water" and "out" as I signed them. Finally, I heard the cup hit the bottom of the hamper and looked over at the baby, who was patting her mouth with an open hand. Not quite the sign for water, but close enough. And she's done it over and over since then, both when she sees her cup and when it's not there but she wants a drink.
I heard somewhere that babies that sign often talk late, probably because they can communicate without speaking. I'm not sure if there are scientific data to back that up, and I think I've also heard that it doesn't affect when babies talk and that babies who sign talk earlier. But at eleven months old Adriana didn't have any words at all, and now, at nearly thirteen months she still doesn't (according to my baby book, I started at nine months), but I am finding it doesn't matter. She is going to be a late talker, so it relieves us all to have Adriana able to communicate with us beyond just fussing. Normally when we are at my dad's for a visit, I have trouble knowing when to feed her, because even when she seems to be fussy and a little hungry, she is so busy playing with Grandpa and getting into cupboards, that she won't eat. Last week when we were there, I didn't worry about nursing her until she asked, which she eventually did, and she really ate, too, not just nursing for a second before pulling away to see what she was missing.
This morning, I was awake but still exhausted, so when Adriana began to stir, I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, hoping she would go back to sleep. Instead I felt her sit up and then touch my face. I opened my eyes, and there, so close I couldn't even focus, was a little fist signing for milk.