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Long back I read this on The Mad Momma’s space. Now I have some information about it. Why this very late enlightenment? My simple brain was struck on interpreting, differentiating, comparing, analyzing and completely understanding physcho-analytical developmental theories from big shots like Freud, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner. All the heavy stuff made me doze off and by the time I finally woke up, a month had passed. We all know the pace at which MM writes. She averages about 5 posts a day and this one, though was just 30 days back, is buried deep in her archives. So MM if you are still interested here is the information.

Signing, in the US, is no longer looked down as something that is restricted to hearing/speech impaired. Of late signing is catching on big time. Day care centers have signing as a part of their curriculum. People are paying tons of money to learn signing with their children.

Advantages of signing – do I have to spell it out? How many days, have I spoken through clenched teeth to toddler/infant in an ominous tone, “Yenna venum-nnu solen? Yen yennai paduthare?” (Meaning: Just tell me what you want. Stop taunting me. Oh – the translation simply does not cut it folks. It does not capture the essence of the dialogue.) So if the child is able to communicate, lesser number of tantrums and life gets simple for the caregiver.

Now to the controversy that clouds signing. Some argue that signing delays speech. That is absolutely right. If your child can satisfy its needs through signs, what is the initiative to make words and sentences?

Now comes the twist. Delay of speech is nothing to be alarmed about. Speech/Language development has always been associated with cognitive (brain) development. So a delay in speech is portrayed with a negative connotation. But language is not just making words and sentences. Language must be viewed as a means of communication. So, the initiative to communicate (in any way, not just through words) must be seen as a cognitive milestone. Otherwise we all have to falsely conclude that all hearing/speech impaired people lack severely in cognitive development.

When a baby is born, she has a few schemas/patterns in her brain. Based on these schemas they react, like they know to root when they are hungry, they know to calm down when they hear their mother’s voice/touch, they posses a sucking instinct. As they grow, as they experience new things, they compare it with their existing schema. For example, when you bring a feeding bottle to the baby, she analyzes with her sense of smell and sense of taste, concludes, “It is milk all right, just in a different form. I already know how to suck from breast. So if I do the same, I must be fine”. So she compares the new experience with her schema and assimilates the new experience in to her schema. When you start feeding the baby from a cup and a spoon, though it is the same milk, it is a totally new experience eating from a spoon. She compares it to her existing schema, gets confused that there is no match and evolves a new schema incorporating the new experience. This is adapting to the new experience.

At one stage the baby realizes that every object in her wold has a ‘name’. THIS correlation is a major milestone and her little brain is working hard, to rewrite a new, slightly complex schema that accommodates this new realization. This correlation occurs irrespective of words+object association or words+sign association. This association takes place much earlier in a baby who uses signs. Also the communication and the gratification because of the communication enriches her experience and her schema is getting more and more complex. On a two year scale, sign language baby vs non-sign language baby, the sign language baby definitly has the cognitive edge.

Sign language baby, after some time realizes that objects can have more than one way of representation – words and signs. Then she rewrites her schema and incorporates words in to her schema.

The flip side to signing is that not many people know how to sign. As MM has pointed out in her post, the baby does get alarmed if she is not able to communicate to a person who is not able to sign.

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