Friday, August 21, 2009

The Baby Signs Program and Autism: Exploring the Benefits


I have a request. Over the years, Dr. Susan Goodwyn, co-founder with me of the Baby Signs Program, and I have received emails from Baby Signs Instructors, from parents, and even from our academic colleagues, all commenting on the potential benefits, not just of signing, but specifically of the Baby Signs Program, for autistic children and urging us to take a closer look. Given the severe problems so many autistic children have with verbal language, we believed they were right, but there always seemed to be other initiatives taking priority—until now. For some reason the frequency of such comments has increased recently, and one email in particular from a Baby Signs Instructor this week has caused us to really sit up and take notice. Here’s what she told us:

“I got a call from someone who teaches autistic children. She thanked me for teaching the Baby Signs® Program and shared that she uses signs with the older kids she works with and it really helps them. She went on to say that our teaching signs to parents of babies is a wonderful thing for autistic children because parents often do not get a diagnosis until they are older, so they are getting some intervention before they even know there is a problem. I have heard the same thing from other parents. A relative of my sister was told by her intervention team that having her baby in a preschool that used signs really helped him escape some of the detrimental affects of his autism. With 1 out of every 150 children being diagnosed with autism, it is more important than ever that we reach families and children early, and your program is doing this.”

What startled us into action was the insight that by teaching young babies to sign, we are providing parents of autistic children “…some intervention before they even know there is a problem.”

With this email as our inspiration, Susan and I have began to explore the research literature more closely. What we have already learned strengthens our hypothesis that our program, including our DVD-based potty training program, holds the promise of being especially beneficial to families with autistic children, both before and after they are diagnosed. What we are hoping now is that, by posting this message, we can reach individuals who might have relevant observations to share—both parents and professionals—about the impact of signing in general and/or of our program in particular on autistic children.

So, if you do have any insights to share, we’d really appreciate hearing from you!
• What have you observed?
• What has worked—and why?
• What hasn’t worked—and why?
• Would you be able to help us to conduct an informal study of the effectiveness of our program?

These children—and their parents—deserve any help we can provide. Feel free to comment here or contact me personally by email at

Happy Signing!

Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program


amber said...

I love that you are doing more research on the benefits for autistic children.

I have a story of my own to share. I am a teacher in an early preschool classroom. In my class one of my students has down syndrome, and he doesn’t have a very large vocabulary. One afternoon he was upset about something and throwing a big fit, but it was time to sit down and have snack. However, he would NOT sit in his chair but instead he wanted to jump up and down and throw himself at me. I then in return bent down and looked him right in his eyes and said as well as signed it, “No sir, we need to stop and sit down to eat.” It was almost immediately after I signed to him that he quit throwing his fit. Afterwards I turned around and looked at another teacher in the classroom and she had a look of shock on her face. It was an amazing moment as a teacher and also as an ASL interpreting/special education college student.

Sarah said...

I have been doing ABA therapy with children for 5 yrs, and am working toward am BCABA certification. We have thought many of the children and parents to communicate with sign. My best success was with a 8yr old non-verbal male. The teachers and speech therapist had been trying to get him to communicate with PECS with little progress since the age of four. We started signing with him, paring the word verbally with the sign, with highly preferred items, foods for him, and he immediately started signing. With in a matter of months he had picked up more signs and was starting to verbalize requests for the initial signs. By the age of 9 yrs he was able to tell his mother that he loved her verbally for the first time. The family was so pleased with the progress and continues to introduce new words using the sign first. At the time we did not know of the Baby Signs (R) Program but we implemented the signs in a way very similar way. Had we know it would have made things much easier since everything is in the program.
I am now a Baby Signs(R) independent product consultant and plan on using the program with an future clients that I get that would greatly benefit from this program.