Infant communication aids in development

By Pfc. Daniel M. Rangel, 22 MPADFebruary 3, 2009

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - How can a 12 month old baby tell you he or she is hungry or tired, without speaking a word' By using baby sign language. Fort Bragg parents can take advantage of the new baby, toddler and preschool sign language program, which began its enrollment this January at the Child, Youth and School Services center.

"We teach things that are relevant to their world," said Paul Driessen, instuctional program specialist for Child, Youth and School Services. "If the child is hungry, if the child is thirsty, if the child is cold, we teach them to use those types of signs," Driessen said.

Designed for all babies, whether or not they're hearing impaired, the sign langauge program aides in their cognitive development.

"There are a lot of national studies going on with sign language right now," Driessen said. "Children who have gone through the sign language program are much more advanced when compared to their peer group. When they get to be six or seven years old they're a full year ahead in progress as far as their cognitive skills, sentence formation and word power."

The program aims to assist with enhancing language and cognitive skills in babies, toddlers and preschoolers by communicating their needs, thoughts and feelings. Participants also learn a new and useful skill.

"They're learning actual sign language," Dreissen said. "It's an American Sign Language Program. When the child gets older they'll be able to sign the regular ABCs."

Sign language is also a universal language like music or mathematics.

"Sign language crosses cultural barriers. The same sign exists for a Spanish-speaking child as it does for an English-speaking child," Driessen said.

But the program is not only about development. Baby sign language can ease tension within the home.

"When they start being able to put signs to their feelings, wants and needs, the child has a reduced amount of tantrums. There's less crying, there's less animosity and strife," Driessen said.

He added basic communication signs are very useful to help reduce the frustration and anxiety of the child. "If the parents bring in a dog, they can show the sign for dog," Driessen said. "At that age, every time a dog comes into the room the child sees another dog because they have an over generalization of their surroundings thinking that everything comes up for the first time new again even though it's still Sparky."

The sign language program is just one of the many SKIESUnlimited classes offered as a part of the Army Family Covenant. Funding from the Army Family Covenant makes this program and others free to qualifying Families. Classes are held for 12 to 24 month olds, 2 and 3 year olds and 4 to 5 year olds on Tuesdays at Tolson Youth Activities Center. Registration is required through CYSS, as well as parent participation.

Getting the word out has been the greatest challenge for the baby sign language program. "Because it's a new class, it's tough to get the word out. We only advertise through flyers," said Georgia Mitchell, administrative assistant for Child, Youth and School Services.

But if the success of the other CYSS programs is any indication of the future for the new program, baby sign language should be a useful and resounding success. For more information about the baby sign language program on Fort Bragg, call 396-8110 or 396-KIDS.