Sign Language Research
White Paper: Signing with Babies and Children
A comprehensive summary of the academic research
on the impact of signing on cognitive, linguistic and social-emotional development
Written by Dr. Claire Vallotton
Michigan State University
Until now, if you wanted to get an objective summary of the academic research on signing with babies and children that has been conducted over the past three decades, you would have had to pull together findings from a wide array of disparate and sometimes obscure sources. Now, thanks to Dr. Claire Vallotton, a trusted authority and leading researcher on this topic, you now have access to a comprehensive reference list of 68 studies and a concise summary of over three decades of research about the impact of signing on development and learning from early childhood through elementary school.
This white paper is for you - the many parents, teachers, health professionals, social workers, students, and writers who have asked us for unbiased information that can be used to inform practices and shape professional opinions. We are pleased to be sharing this paper with you. Please download it and pass it along to anyone you think may benefit from it.
- Rachel Coleman and Emilie Brown, Two Little Hands Productions
This paper gives an overview of research findings on the impacts of signing on development and learning for children of all ages and abilities – and provides research supported answers to common questions parents and teachers have about signing with children.
There are many benefits of using signs with students – from as young as preverbal infants, to those in early elementary, all the way to adult students who struggle with reading or those who are learning a new language. Research has also shown benefits for children with special needs including dyslexia, language impairments, Down syndrome, and Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as for both hearing and deaf children in an inclusive education environment. Thus signs can be used to enhance education for learners of a wide range of ages and abilities.
The benefits of signing are not just for the students, but for teachers, too. When children can communicate more clearly, teachers can respond to them more easily, and teachers’ feel more competent in their own work.
In the last three decades, we’ve witnessed an amazing partnership between families, teachers, and researchers. This partnership created the impetus for the early research and the momentum for studies that followed. As we move into the future, our work will continue, fed by breakthroughs in neuroscience and technology which will lead to even more exciting discoveries about how signing influences human interactions and learning.
- Claire Vallotton, Ph.D.
Signing with Infants and Toddlers
A. Impact of Signing on Language Development
B. Impact of Signing on Cognitive Development
C. Impact of Signing on Social-Emotional Development
Research-based answers to common questions from teachers and parents about signing with infants and toddlers
A. When should I start teaching signs?
B. When will children start to sign back?
C. Should I use videos to teach signing?
D. Should signing be a part of reading?
E. What signs should I teach?
F. Should I teach fingerspelling?
G. Should I keep signing once a child starts talking?
Signing with Preschool and School-Age Children
A. Impact of Signing on Language and Literacy
B. Impact of Signing on Learning across Subject Areas
Research-based answers to common questions about signing with children ages three and above
A. Should I teach fingerspelling?
B. Should I teach ASL grammar and syntax as well as ASL vocabulary?
Signing with Specific Populations
A. Children with Specific Language Impairments (SLI)
B. Children with Down Syndrome
C. Children on the Autism Spectrum (ASD)
D. Children with Dyslexia
E. Children Learning a Second Language
F. Adults Learning a Second Language
Opportunities for Further Research
About the Author
Dr. Claire Vallotton, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State Universityand a member of the International Infant Sign Researchers group. She studies the development of young children’s language/communication and social-emotional skills from infancy through early childhood. Many of her studies involve the use of signs with infants and toddlers in order to understand (1) how the use of signs affects children’s relationships with parents and other caregivers, (2) how using signs affects children’s own cognitive and social-emotional skills, and (3) how the specific gestures and signs used with young children vary across cultures and are a reflection of cultural values for parenting.
Signing and Early Literacy Research
Daniels, M. (1994). The Effects of Sign Language on Hearing Children's Language Development. Communication Education, October, v43 n4, p291(8).
Daniels, Marilyn, Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy. Bergin & Garvey, October 2000. ISBN: 0897897927.
Hafer, Jan C, and Robert M. Wilson. Signing for Reading Success. Gallaudet University Press, December 1998. ISBN: 0930323181.
Daniels, M. (October, 1994). The effects of sign language on hearing children's language development. Communication Education, 43, 291-298.
Daniels, M. (1996). Seeing language: The effect over time of sign language on vocabulary development in early childhood education. Child Study Journal, 26, 193-208.
Daniels, M. (2001). Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.
Felzer, L. (1998). A Multisensory Reading Program That Really Works. Teaching and Change, 5, 169-183.
Wilson, R., Teague, J., and Teague, M. (1985). The Use of Signing and Fingerspelling to Improve Spelling Performance with Hearing Children. Reading Psychology, 4, 267-273.
Hafer, J. (1986). Signing For Reading Success. Washington D.C.: Clerc Books, Gallaudet University Press.
Koehler, L., and Loyd, L. (September 1986). Using Fingerspelling/Manual Signs to Facilitate Reading and Spelling. Biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. (4'th Cardiff Wales).
Signing and Down Syndrome Research
Donovan, Claire S-LP, (1998) Teaching Sign Language, Disability Solutions, Volume 2, Issue 5, January/February 1998.
Miller J F, Sedey A, Miolo G, Rosin M, Murray-Branch J (1992) Vocabulary acquisition in young children with Down syndrome: Speech and sign Paper presented at the 9th World Congress of the International Association for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency. Queensland Australia August 1992.
Gibbs, E.D., Springer, A.S., Cooley, S.C. & Aloisio, S. (November, 1991). Early use of total communication: Patterns across eleven children with Down Syndrome. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Early Childhood Conference on Children with Special Needs, St. Louis, MO.
Signing and Reading Disabilities
Blackburn, D., Vonvillian, J., and Ashby, R. (January 1984). Manual Communication as an Alternative Mode of Language Instruction for Children with Severe Reading Disabilities. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 15, 22-31.
Carney, J., Cioffi, G., and Raymond, W. (Spring 1985). Using Sign Language For Teaching Sight Words. Teaching Exceptional Children. 214-217.
King-Spears, Kelley. (2012). Jumpstart The Resource Guide For Parents With Developmentally Delayed Children.
Vernon, M., Coley, J., Hafer, J., and Dubois, J. (April 1980). Using Sign Language to Remediate Severe Reading Problems. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 13, 215-218.
Sensenig, L., Topf, B., and Mazeika, E. (June 1989). Sign Language Facilitation of Reading with Students Classified as Trainable Mentally Handicapped. Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded, 121-125.