Teaching your child sign language can be an effective way to communicate before your little one is old enough to put words together. But sign language can be even more effective when communicating with newly adopted children who are not speaking due to language delays, adoption trauma, or language barriers.

I didn’t use sign language with my two biological children. Frankly, it never occurred to me that it might be useful and they were generally on track with their developmental stages. With my youngest, who was adopted over a year ago, sign language has not only increased our ability to communicate, but also has helped her verbal language abilities.

Our local Parents as Teachers representative first suggested sign. She said my youngest daughter was one of those kids who learned by doing, so giving her signs to associate with words might speed her actual verbal language development, as well as giving her a way to express her wants and needs.

Adding Sign Language to Enhance Toddler Communication

We bought Baby Signing 1-2-3: The Easy-to-Use Illustrated Guide for Every Stage and Every Age and decided to give it a try. We chose a few signs to begin with – eat, drink, more, help, and sleep – and started introducing them immediately. I was a little bit worried about my ability to remember the signs and use them consistently, but I was pleasantly surprised that after a couple of days, using the signs came naturally. I was even more surprised to see my 18 month old child using them naturally, too. The book had clearly illustrated the signs with detailed photos and drawings that I found very helpful. However, if you’re only communicating with your toddler, then I suppose it wouldn’t matter if you had the sign exactly right, as long as both you and your child knew what you were ‘talking’ about!

Within two weeks, we had added other signs. Change, play, read… the signs are intuitive and not difficult to remember. What’s more, they’ve been easy for all members of my family to remember and we’ve introduced a few of the ones my daughter uses most often to her daycare staff as well. Most of the time, she uses the sign and the word together, reinforcing her verbal communication skills. To say we’re thrilled would be an understatement.

The Baby Signing book is simple and introduces the basic signs. Our Parents as Teachers rep actually recommended another book that I didn’t find quite as ‘mommy friendly’, but seems to be the ‘go to’ book if you plan to integrate sign language beyond the basics. The Sign With Your Baby: How to Communicate With Infants Before They Can Speak book also has a dvd available for parents who would like to see the movements demonstrated more clearly. I don’t find this book as easy to decipher, but again, this one seems to be the sign langauge book most recommended by those who teach it and use it consistently.

If your adopted child is struggling to communicate, consider adding sign language to your toolbox. Don’t be intimidated! Pick a few basic signs and slowly add more as needed. Soon you and your child will be communicating without effort.

Dianna blogs about adoption and life at www.mamainpajamas.com.