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Baby sign language helps infants, toddlers with communication
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Kylie Moritz, Sunflower Early Education Center speech/language pathologist, helps Klaire Dickson, now 4, with communication skills. In addition to baby sign language, Moritz used books and other visual aids during her weekly and bi-weekly visits to the Dickson home in Stafford.

         Alysha Dickson understood the value of baby sign language but needed guidance to help her young daughter, Klaire.

            Dickson found that guidance at Sunflower Early Education Center (EEC). Kylie Moritz, an EEC speech/language pathologist (SLP), helped Klaire reach her developmental milestones through signing and other techniques.

            Both women wanted to share information about baby sign language during May, which is Better Hearing and Speech Month.

            “Klaire wasn’t reaching communication developmental milestones,” her mom said. “When she did speak, it was almost always in a whisper. She had become frustrated with her inability to tell us what she wanted and needed.

“Kylie gave us strategies to alleviate some of our frustrations. Through the EEC and with Kylie’s expertise, we were able to teach Klaire sign language.”

            Dickson had used some sign language with Klaire’s older brother in the past. However, only a few words were involved and he became able to communicate quickly.

            “I was just not equipped to give Klaire the extensive sign language she needed,” Dickson said. “The EEC visits were always a glimmer of hope in a very frustrating time in Klaire’s development.

“Kylie encouraged us and offered strategies. I was a bit skeptical about focusing on sign language versus talking. But it was an important piece in helping Klaire communicate.”

Moritz indicated this skepticism is not uncommon.

            “Parents sometimes think if their child uses baby sign language they won’t learn to talk,” Moritz said. “This is not so. Research studies and our experiences show the ability to speak can occur faster with signing.

            “The more repetitive and consistent you are, the quicker a child will pick it up. Children develop the ability to imitate motor actions before speech sounds. Baby sign language can lessen a lot of the frustration.”

            It is never too early or too late to start signing. “However, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to get out of a routine,” Moritz noted.

            In many cases, Moritz will begin with eating and drinking signs.

            For example, if a child points to the refrigerator, “it is okay for parents to act like they don’t know what their child wants so the child will attempt to communicate it. You open the fridge and show the child the milk. Then, you pair the milk with the sign for milk.”

            Moritz acknowledged this will take a “little coaxing at first. But when they give the correct sign for milk, children will have a direct reward.”

            Baby sign language is similar to American Sign Language, with some modifications, depending on a child’s age and dexterity. It can be used with children who have delays, as well as those who are developing typically.

            The SLP emphasized that a child’s whole family needs to participate in these efforts.

            “This is huge,” Moritz said. “If one parent is involved and the other isn’t, the child gets mixed signals. Parents will be able to communicate much earlier, even before the child can’t yet talk but is making speech sounds.

            “Parents are their children’s best teachers. I always knew Alysha was implementing the strategies in daily life because of Klaire’s great progress. She met all milestones and became age appropriate in all developmental areas.”

            Since May is speech/hearing month, Moritz also noted the EEC provides free hearing screenings.

            These include otoscopy during which the examiner looks at the external ear canal and eardrum to inspect for drainage, foreign bodies, impacted ear wax, infection and structural abnormalities.

            In another test, otoacoustic emissions are measured. This refers to sounds in the ear canal that reflect movement of the outer hair cells in the cochlea.

            A tympanometry exam can reveal Eustachian-tube dysfunction, middle-ear fluid or a perforated eardrum. A local 100 + People Who Care donation funded this piece of equipment.

            The EEC’s services are free to families with children age birth to 3. Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults with intellectual disabilities and delays in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 53rd year.