A FEW TIPS FOR SIGNING WITH YOUR BABY
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR BABY'S EYE GAZE BEFORE YOU START SIGNING
For those of us who have always been hearing, we have to train ourselves to think in visual ways. Researchers looked at how Deaf parents engage with their children, and discovered that they get their child's attention before starting to sign, and use strategies like gently touching their child, larger signing, exaggerated facial expressions, and signing on the baby's body. All of these techniques help to keep the child visually involved with the language.
Joint attention, when a parent and baby are paying attention to the same thing, is a special time for language acquisition and for bonding. Infants seems to recognize that new information may be coming, and their brains become more receptive to new information (Lytle &Kuhl, 2018). So a simple way to increase your baby's access to language is to take advantage of these moments of joint attention. When you and your deaf child are enjoying something together, get their attention by waving or tapping and then talk to them about what you saw, even if you're not sure how to sign parts of it. All that shared time and language is giving their brain the rich experience they need.
SHOW YOUR BABY LOTS OF LANGUAGE.
IT DOESN'T ALL HAVE TO COME FROM YOU.
Learning a new language as an adult takes time. You are a very important language model for your baby, but you don't have to be the only one. Use the resources in your community to give your child experience with many different language users. Since children's brains are collecting statistics on the language they see, the more input they have, the better. There are many wonderful Deaf adults who would love to help you find ways to give your child experience with different signers. For some research behind this point, check out this article on early intervention and deaf adults. You can also search online to find videos of adults and children using ASL. Watch and learn along with your child.
ENGAGE AND COMMUNICATE EVEN IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE SIGNS
You are the most important person in your baby's life, and your baby will benefit from all of your love and attention. Be creative in your interactions and don't worry about what you are still learning to sign. Interact with your baby through gestures, facial expressions and other visual forms of communication. The important part is that you are bonding with your child, sharing joint attention, and providing as much visual engagement as possible.
SET ASIDE TIME FOR SIGNING WHERE YOU DON'T USE YOUR VOICE.
It can be challenging to manage a household where more than one language is being used. Most families with hearing and deaf members will end up using their voices and signing at the same time in some situations. It may feel like we are making more sense when we sign and talk at the same time, but that usually means we are clear in English, not in sign language. Imagine trying to speak in one language and write in another at the same time. It's close to impossible. If you try to produce two different languages at the same time, your dominant one will win. When hearing people sign and speak, we tend to drop a lot of the signs and make less sense than we think (Scott & Henner, 2021).
What can you do about this? First of all, try to set aside time when you and your baby are communicating in sign language without using your voice. Both you and your baby will benefit from your focusing on being clear in sign language, and you will show your baby that you value visual communication. Secondly, if you do use both languages at the same time, try to focus on the ASL, and worry less about how the English sounds. If you intentionally shift your attention to the signed part of the message, you may be more clear.