Can signing make a baby talk late -- or less? Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn wondered about this too. Before their book's release, they conducted a major study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
In fact, they found just the opposite to be true. Babies who signed developed verbal language skills at a rate faster than average. "We think it's partly because when a baby signs, the people around him talk to him more," Dr. Goodwyn says. "People say things like 'Oh, look, you're patting your head! Do you want a hat?' Comments like these, directed to a baby, are crucial to the child's language development." Other preliminary findings suggest these kids develop higher IQs too.
Currently, the professors are studying whether signing and the line of communication it opens can improve a baby's temperament. So far, the best evidence comes from parents like Rebecca Yoder, of Tampa. She started teaching her daughter, Lauren, to sign at 6 months and quickly noticed a difference in her behavior. "Lauren became less tearful and less prone to tantrums," Yoder says. "If she wanted a toy that was out of reach, she was able to signal that she needed help, instead of crying and fussing. It brought us to a whole new level of closeness."