Research on Signing


Dr. Michelle Anthony and Dr. Reyna Lindert, Signing Smart program founders and the authors of the book Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers: A parent's strategy and activity guide received their Ph.D.s at the University of California at Berkeley and have spent many years examining language development and doing research on sign language acquisition. Since graduating, they have been researching many aspects of development and language use in children who are using Signing Smart methods. In combination with creating materials and programs to facilitate development, Dr. Anthony and Dr. Lindert are committed to bringing their findings to relevant professionals and the larger baby / toddler sign language community.

National Study of Signing Smart Children
Drs. Anthony and Lindert have just completed a groundbreaking study on the benefits of Signing Smart methods in relation to early communication as well as spoken language development. They are in the process of formally writing up the results for publication in academic journals and presentation at professional conferences.

The study consists of more than 200 families from all over the country whose children range from 6 months to 19 months, and it includes both cross-sectional as well as longitudinal data. All families participating in the study used Signing Smart programming (through our workshops, play classes, or materials) for at least 8 weeks. Data were collected over a span of about 9 months.

Compared to developmental norms, Signing Smart children have enriched language and communication skills:

  • While the average 8 month old will have no spoken words, the average Signing Smart child will have 5 signs and 1 word.
  • While the average 12 month old will have 3-5 spoken words, the average Signing Smart child will have 25 signs and 16 words
  • At 18 months, the average child will have 10-50 spoken words. In contrast, the average Signing Smart child will have 79 signs and 105 words.
  • In addition, a majority of Signing Smart children begin combining signs and words or signs and signs together to form little sentences at 11-14 months. Compare this to non-signers, who do not begin to combine words into short sentences (e.g., "Da-da car") until 20 months old on average!

These results indicate that ASL signs, used in combination with Signing Smart strategies, facilitate both overall communicative abilities as well as spoken language skills in hearing infants and toddlers.

Additional Research by the Founders
Dr. Lindert conducted research indicating that ASL enhances communication between parents and young children, leading to extended interactions about themes of interest. In deaf or hearing families, ASL opens up the world of communication for children who are not yet able to speak.

Lindert, R. (2001). Hearing families with deaf children: Linguistic and communicative aspects of American Sign Language development. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of CA, Berkeley.

Dr. Anthony researched the relationship between language, gesture, and literacy. Results indicate that school-aged children's ability to integrate language with gestures (which is what hearing children using sign language do) is positively related to their literacy skills.

Anthony, M (2002). The role of American Sign Language and "conceptual wholes" in facilitating language, cognition, and literacy. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of CA, Berkeley.

Signing Smart is currently studying the ways that signing facilitates hearing children's ability to think about and understand language at an early age. Preliminary findings indicate that hearing, signing children display advanced abilities in recognizing and producing rhymes and in understanding and using synonyms and antonyms.

Dr. Anthony and Dr. Lindert's research at the University of California at Berkeley Sign Language Acquisition Lab demonstrates that very young children use the iconic quality of true signs (their conceptually-based "picture-like" quality) to more easily learn and begin to use them.

Research demonstrating the effects of signing on hearing infants and toddlers:
A study done of children in childcare has found that hearing signing babies show less frustration and decreased aggressive behavior in childcare settings.

Grabmeier, J. (1999). Infants use sign language to communicate at Ohio State School. Newswise Press.

Research demonstrating the effects of signing on hearing preschool-aged children:
A study funded by the NIH demonstrates that by age 4, hearing children who used signs as infants and toddlers are linguistically and cognitively advanced, compared to hearing children who did not sign.

Goodwyn, S.W., Acredolo, L. P. & Brown, C. (2000). Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24, 81-103.

A study done at Pennsylvania State University of hearing preschoolers shows that even hearing children who are not exposed to ASL signs until the preschool years display literacy advancements over non-signing children. Specifically, they evidence enhanced vocabulary, spelling, and reading skills.

Daniels, M. (2001). Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey

Research demonstrating the effects of signing on school-aged children:
Follow up of the children in the NIH funded study reports that, compared to their non-signing counterparts, hearing second graders who signed as infants have an average IQ advantage of 12 points.

Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. (July 2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK.
Slobin, D., Hoiting, N., Kuntze, M., Lindert, R., Weinberg, A., Pyers, J., Anthony, M., Biederman, Y., & Thumann, H. (2003). A cognitive/functional perspective on the acquisition of "classifiers." In K. Emmorey (Ed.), Perspectives on classifier constructions in sign languages. Lawrence Erlbaum.