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National Post - Bursting the bubble on the new baby sign of the times

Bursting the bubble on the new baby sign of the times

Carol Milstone, PhD
National Post

February 22, 2021

There's nothing like good investigative research to burst a lucrative bubble in the fad market. The bubble in this case is teaching sign language to babies who hear perfectly well. With over 20 baby sign books on the market, instructional videos and countless workshops, it would be difficult to find a parent today who isn't at least familiar with the baby sign language movement. It is easy to understand why so many parents would embrace the movement: Baby sign is touted for stimulating language and brain development, reducing intra-psychic frustration, and advancing the emotional bond between parent and child. Researchers from the Universities of Ottawa and Waterloo decided to seek some verification of these claims. From their exhaustive review of over 1200 potentially relevant studies on baby sign, only five (yup, five) actually measured objective outcomes from teaching sign language to groups of hearing babies. The studies showed some limited advantage in early language skills for toddlers who were taught sign compared to children who were not taught sign. However, the children's language benefits were gone by the time they reached two years of age. No advantages were found in the literature with regards to emotional development, cognitive development, or parent child relationships for children who were taught sign language compared with those who weren't.
© National Post 2005

The content for the above news article stems from a Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network Systematic Review Program, a Network HQPC initiative. Cyne Johnston, a Ph.D. student in Population Health at the University of Ottawa, and an Audiologist trained at Dalhousie University, won one of The Network's awards to review evidence.

Cyne Johnston's work resulted in the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network Program Catalogue and Review of Evidence: Training hearing infants to use sign language. Andrée Durieux-Smith, University of Ottawa and Kathleen Bloom, University of Waterloo, both Network researchers, collaborated with Cyne Johnston.

This research is scheduled for publication in the journal First Language (spring 2005).

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