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Baby Sign Language…Not Just For Babies Anymore!
by Penny Haussmann

Mommy Nature's Preschool Blog

Baby Sign Language - Tiny Talking Hands

A history of how it all began 

Parenting has its fair amount of stress, frustration and second-guessing of many decisions.  This can be especially true when caring for an infant. Can you imagine your baby asking for more milk, or telling you that he or she is tired or needs their diaper changed?  Would you like the opportunity to provide your child a “jump start” in language and verbal skills, social skills, enhanced imaginations and development of a higher IQ.  Of course!  Teaching your baby to communicate with simple gestures that resemble the objects, activities, or emotions they represent, prior to the development of verbal communication can enhance your baby’s brain development and decrease frustration for both yourself and your baby!  Recent research has proven when infants are taught to use sign language to communicate their wants and needs they have potential to excel in language, verbal articulation, visual-perceptual skills and read prior to 5 years-old.

The interest, in baby sign language, began in the late 1980’s by two separate and significant research projects.  Joseph Garcia, a student at Alaska Pacific University and the team of Linda Acredolo, Ph.D and Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D both from the University of Davis. Both research ventures began with the inspiration of their own children.

While Garcia was working as an interpreter in the 1970’s, he became fascinated with his observations that babies of his deaf friends were fast on the trail of becoming sign language “experts” by the age of 9 months!  Conversely, his observations also noted babies of hearing parents were not communicating much at 9 months of age.  This became the topic for his graduate thesis in 1986.  In 1987, while attending Alaska Pacific University, Garcia began to research the use of American Sign Language hearing babies of hearing parents. 

Garcia’s own infant sons became the “test subjects” that eventually developed his “Sign With Your Baby” and “Sign 2 Me” multimedia programs based on American Sign Language (ASL).  Through the past 20 years Garcia has been a tremendous asset to the deaf community, in addition to creating training materials for youth-related projects.

During the same time period, Linda Acredolo had observed her daughter Katie watching the fish swimming in the fish tank at the pediatrician office.  Katie walked up to the tank to take a closer look and started to blow.  Her mother became puzzled at the behavior.  Once they were home Katie was put down for a nap in her crib.  Over the crib hung a fish mobile.  Linda leaned in to “activate” the mobile with a gentle blow.  Linda immediately made the connection of Katie “communicating” with the fish at the pediatrician’s office.

Acredolo and her research partner, Goodwyn, began to study the impact of signing with babies as compared to those babies who did not sign.  Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, they were able to identify progress at ages 2, 3, and 8 years old.  Two decades of research results proved signers out-performed non-signers in many areas of cognition and language development.  

The result of Acredolo and Goodwyn’s work is the basis of their Baby Signs book and program based on the concept to allow babies to create their own signs to communicate to bridge the gap between cognition and communication.  Currently, Linda Acredolo, Ph.D is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Davis.  Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D, is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Stanislaus.

From these two significant research studies and sign language programs many grass root baby sign language programs have emerged.  Most of the current programs of today are based on ASL and facilitate verbal development as an end result goal.

Tiny Talking Hands embraces both concepts.  Garcia’s ASL based programs allow for parents, caregivers, healthcare providers and educators to easily increase their vocabulary base with access to a wide variety of multimedia material.  ASL is the third most popular language in the United States and now is a foreign language credit course and institutions of higher education.

Without the statistical research from Acredolo and Goodwyn, we may not be aware of the positive impact that the introduction of sign language has to a baby’s cognitive and language development.

Tiny Talking Hands has taken this concept one step further.  Based on ASL and theories of occupational therapy.  Occupational Therapy centers itself around the concept of function.  When a person has a limitation, regardless if it is physical, psychological or cognitive, the question that is always on everyone’s mind is “Can they…”  The quote is usually filled in with an aspect of prior function in their life that they now either cannot do or it is limited in some particular aspect.  Can they walk, get dressed, drive a car, go back to work, sign their name and so on.  Just as the researchers mentioned earlier, Penny Haussmann, Occupational Therapist for over 14 years, became intrigued with baby sign language with the birth of her daughter. 

At first Haussmann’s interest centered on the benefits that ASL would provide to her child.  As the years passed some benefits became apparent.  At 18 months of age, her daughter had a vocabulary of a 2 year-old.  At 3 she was speaking in 7-8 word sentences.  Due to the amazing results noticed in her own child, Haussmann founded Tiny Talking Hands to teach other parents the simple techniques that would provide lifetime developmental benefits to their children.  Always an occupational therapist, always on the hunt for creative treatment mediums, Haussmann began to integrate the same techniques used to teach her daughter, with her clients.

Haussmann had been working with a 3 year old boy who had been diagnosed with Autism and was non-verbal.  His parents had reported difficulty in identifying his needs and wants.  Haussmann began to teach the little boy the ASL techniques for “more”.  Within a few months he was actively signing the word “more”.  For the first time the child and parents were able to communicate without confusion or frustration.  This was an amazing gift for the parents.  In addition, it validated the boy's role as a family member as he was well on his way to active participation! 

The practice of integrating ASL tips and techniques into everyday occupational therapy treatment has become standard for Haussmann.  Haussmann has utilized these techniques with all ages and a variety of medical conditions to enhance the ability to communicate.  The ability to communicate can profoundly impact one’s view of the world and of their self-worth.  In addition to continuing to provide this education to parents and grandparents, Tiny Talking Hands provides continuing education courses of study to physical therapists, occupational therapists and daycare providers.  Because in the end it is all about making a positive impact!

To find out how you can begin your personal journey with baby sign language you may contact Penny Haussmann at: or visit



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