When it comes to baby sign language things have changed a lot since I first started Baby Hands over 5 years ago.

In the early days virtually nobody in Australia had heard of baby sign language and most parents assumed it was something for Deaf babies and not something they needed to bother with.

The great thing is that over the last 5 years we have really started to catch up here in Australia and now when I speak to people about baby sign many people ask me “So does your system use Auslan?”

So what is the difference between Auslan and ASL or even using made up signs?  Does it make any difference to you, your baby and the end result?

To answer these questions lets just take a quick step back and see where the idea of baby sign language really stemmed from and how and why it became popular.

So what is Baby Sign Language?

The basic principal behind baby sign language is the use of simple gestures to communicate with pre-verbal babies so that you can understand what it is they want before they can actually talk.

The research and studies into baby sign were mostly done overseas in the United States in the early years when it was noticed that Deaf parents who taught their children sign language were able to communicate with their children prior to them developing the ability to actually speak.

Early adopters of this method of teaching sign to babies were the US and the UK who use ASL (American Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language) respectively.

Now its a surprise to many people that sign language is not universal but I have written about this before here in The Evolution of Sign Language.  But, it really should be no surprise to people that the language of the Deaf community varies from country to country just as the language of the Hearing community varies from country to country.

This gives us many variations of sign languages the world over, each one having its own variations of dialect and uniqueness.

Why use AUSLAN?

From my point of view there are many good reasons to use Auslan if you choose to to use baby sign with your child.

  1. First and foremost its the established signed language of the Deaf community in this country.  Using Auslan as a communication tool with babies is a great way to promote this wonderful and unique language.
  2. Using Auslan shows a respect for the Deaf community of this country.  Coming from Ireland originally I learned ISL (Irish Sign Language).  Living in Australia now for the last 10 years I think it is important to support the Deaf community and realise that they have their own language in this country that we have no right to try and change or overwrite with something different.
  3. Consistency throughout the learning environment. If you learn Auslan with your child and they go into childcare or any other environment and they use Auslan then there is more chance that a childcare worker or other carer may be able to interpret their wants and needs through sign.
  4. Actually learning a second language.  Auslan is its own beautiful language , made up of many interesting signs and gestures and by starting out with the basics of Auslan through baby sign you are opening yourself up to the possibility of having more open communication skills with a wider group of people.

But these are just some key points that I believe in and these are what drove me to start Baby Hands several years ago.

If you are in a different country to Australia then I would encourage you to find out more about the sign language for that country and try to use the appropriate language for the country you live in.

But how important is it to stick to official Auslan?

I always try to get the point across that using baby sign should be fun 🙂

It must not be hard work for you and your baby because if it is then your baby will not enjoy the process of signing if they pick up on the fact that you are stressing because you are trying to remember if you need to cross your left hand over your right or your right hand over your left.

So at some stages because of the practicality of the situation maybe you need to substitute some words in your baby sign for something easier.

One simple example of this is “Milk”  In Auslan this is a two handed sign but if you have a baby in one arm and your trying to get a bottle ready with the other even sparing one hand free might be difficult so modifying this two handed sign into a one handed substitute might be the easiest way to go in this situation.

Also as your baby first starts to sign they will invariably make some mistakes but interpreting your baby’s first signs is all part of the fun of baby sign and just like their speech you can correct them and praise them as they go.

So to wrap up.

Each sign language for each country has its own unique and beautiful origins and even using your own made up gestures can help parents bridge that communication gap if you are consistent with the same made up sign.

But using Auslan helps to introduce a part of the Deaf culture into our own and respect and enjoy what Auslan has to offer across the hearing community as well, while offering our children and you the parent the opportunity to learn a valuable second language.

Auslan allows consistency across the board in Australia.  If you use ASL (American Sign Language) then it is only adding to the confusion that surrounds sign language anyway and the products on the market.

Also if you are using made up signs while this may work well for you and your child what about if they are in another situation where someone does not understand that “baby Jo’s” frantic hand slapping means he needs to go to the toilet.  Many people understand some basic Auslan, especially in the care environment and using it can be so beneficial to help encourage your child’s speech development.

Don’t stress if you or your baby or not getting things 100% correct to start with.  Practice makes perfect and encouraging your child to co-ordinate their signs properly is really easy of you follow the simple steps to signing success.

Encouragement and consistency are the keys  and learning to communicate with simple baby signs using Auslan will be both fun and rewarding for you and your baby.