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By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Any parent who has wondered what a baby pointing toward the kitchen counter is trying to say could benefit from a dictionary of baby hand signs.
Since many babies invent their own form of sign language, though, Donna L. Day, an outreach specialist for the deaf and hard of hearing with Access Independence, of Winchester, hopes to make the communication gap between parents and babies just a little bit smaller.
Day, also an American Sign Language instructor, became an independent certified instructor of Baby Signs about two years ago.
"I've taught sign language for children and adults I think since 2001," said Day, who is hard of hearing.
"I've been with Access for 13 years," she said.
She helps people in the deaf and hearing-impaired community gain access to technology they need in their day-to-day lives, like video phones or caption phones.
"Like on TV," she said. "Well, the phone has captions now."
"Based on their income, they qualify for [discounted] equipment," she said.
Through Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department, she offers "Sign, Say & Play" classes once a week in six-week intervals for children ages 4 months to 2 years. The next class begins Oct. 12 at 10:30 a.m., but she said registration has already begun.
The program comes from the book "Baby Signs," by Linda Acredolo Ph.D., and Susan Goodwyn Ph.D. The original sign language program for babies, the program began in the 1980s. The book "Baby Signs" was published in 1996.
"This is the original program that started the movement," Day said.
"This is mainly for hearing babies," she said. The idea is to help babies better express their desire for "milk," "a drink," "some food" and even to let their parents know when they're "all done."
"So the hand movement helps them with that," Day said. "It also helps them talk sooner."
Day believes that babies who learn sign language learn more quickly, too. They're learning vocabulary words earlier than they might otherwise.
It's important to repeat the words to babies, she said. In class she speaks the word vocally and gives the hand sign.
One of the props she uses in the classroom is BeeBo, a large stuffed bear with puppet arms and big yellow hands, which Day can use for demonstrating signs to babies. BeeBo, as well as a collection of books, comes with the Baby Signs program, according to the program's website, www.babysigns.com.
"The kids love BeeBo," Day said. "I don't know, maybe it's the hands."
The Sign, Say & Play class is 45 minutes long and teaches babies words to use during mealtime, bedtime, bathtime, while dressing, with pets and at the park.
The class can accommodate up to six babies, and offers six to eight vocabulary words each week, Day said.
Clarke County also offers a workshop to walk parents through the "Baby Signs" book.
"Most of them [come] because they want their babies to communicate," Day said. She said babies will come up with their own signs without the program, but she believes sign language leaves little to no room for interpretation, allowing parents to understand immediately what their babies want.
"It gives the parents and babies a closer bond," she said.
Her own grandson said his first word, "milk," after learning the sign when he was 10 months old. Now he's 14 months and can sign about 10 words, Day said.
The program is especially useful for parents or other family members who are hearing impaired. She said it's more difficult for her to read her grandchildren's lips to know what they want.
The program also helps babies with trouble talking and those with Down Syndrome and autism, she said.
"We have babies with special needs, too."
She said there are other programs out there that teach sign language to babies, but she prefers Baby Signs.
"I think I like this one. I think the quality's better on this one," she said.
"I love teaching, and I think it's going to be great for babies. ... Who knows? Maybe they'll grow up to be interpreters."
A baby story time will take place on Sept. 21 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Access Independence office, at 324 Hope Drive in Winchester. A deaf awareness program will be on Sept. 20 from 8 to 11 a.m. at Valley Health & Fitness Center, at 401 Campus Blvd. in Winchester. Other events also will take place during Deaf Awareness Week, Sept. 18-24.
For more information about Baby Signs, call Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department at 955-5140 or call Access Independence at 662-4452.