Look Who's Talking With Their Hands

By signing, even infants can tell you what's on their mind

Jennifer Neale's daughter started using words at the age of seven months. Elena, now 21 months old, isn't unusually gifted with language; rather, she communicates using her hands. Neale, a University of California doctoral candidate in ecology, and her husband Ben Sacks, began using simple gestures with Elena when she was five months old, after hearing about the benefits of sign language for babies. Soon, Elena was able to sign such requests as more, eat, sleep, and change. "It was easy and fun," says Neale, adding that her daughter probably knew 200 signs by the time she was a year old. "We never had a period where we couldn't figure out what she wanted." When Elena was speaking a few months later, her vocabulary was extensive--because, Neale believes, of her experience with signs.

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