Sign Language Milestones

Developmental Milestones in American Sign Language (ASL)

Here are some of the milestones that mark the progress of young children as they learn to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).
Also listed are some suggestions for what you can do to help.
You can look for these milestones as your child learns and grows.

From Birth to Three Months

Milestones

  • Looks around with alertness
  • Is attracted to any human movement
  • Looks attentively at a person’s face
  • Responds to smiles by smiling back
  • Enjoys cuddling and holding
  • Plays with hands and fingers and enjoys hand plays

You Can

  • Look at your baby when feeding, bathing or changing him or her
  • Sign to your baby
  • Play with hand shapes and use lots of facial expression when playing with your baby
  • Place fun, colourful pictures of ASL and the finger-spelled alphabet in your baby’s room
  • Place a mirror in your baby’s room, positioned so he or she can see you entering and leaving the room
  • Hold your baby while bouncing or dancing
  • Share picture books


From Three Months to Six Months

Milestones

  • Smiles, makes eye contact and laughs
  • Likes to be held facing out, towards any action that is happening
  • Laughs when seeing fingers approaching tickle
  • Turns eyes to a flashing light
  • Turns towards vibrations when the door bell or phone rings
  • Is attracted to moving and coloured objects
  • Plays with hands and fingers and enjoys hand plays

You Can

  • Smile and laugh with your baby
  • Sign with your baby to say what you are doing when you feed, bath and dress him or her
  • Show interest in the hand shapes and facial expressions your baby makes and repeat them back
  • Hold your baby while using body rhythm or body movement


From Six Months to Nine Months

Milestones

  • Enjoys hand babbling – repetitive hand movements such as opening and closing hands in a rhythm without associated leg movements
  • Turns head to locate moving objects, and to watch sign movements used to communicate
  • Looks at common objects and family members when named in ASL
  • Understands simple ASL words.

You Can

  • Point to people, pictures and common objects, sign their names and use simple ASL grammar
  • Watch signed children’s videotapes with your baby
  • Look at books, point to the pictures and name them in ASL
  • Play games such as peek-a-boo with signs
  • Show interest in the signs your baby makes and repeat them back
  • Do ASL nursery rhymes with your baby


From Nine Months to Twelve Months

Milestones

  • Begins hand babbling with varied patterns
  • Begins to use simple movements with hand shapes, such as straight forward or up and down
  • Points to self and things
  • Signs first ASL words using simple hand shapes, such as “mine”, “more”, “milk”, “mommy”
  • Has a vocabulary of 10 signs

You Can

  • Comment on things you and your child are doing by signing about them
  • Learn what hand babbling looks like
  • Acknowledge and expand hand babbling by repeating it
  • Look for first signs and repeat and expand on what your child signs
  • Share ASL children’s literature with your child
  • Play with your child using ASL rhymes and rhythms and have fun


From Twelve Months to Eighteen Months

Milestones

  • Begins to combine ASL words into simple two sign sentences, such as “eat more”, “ouch fall”
  • Uses touch and gesture to summon parents and to indicate needs
  • Asks questions, such as: “yes” or “no” with eyebrows raised along with a sign such as “mine” to say,”Is it mine?”
  • “What” or “where” with frowned eyebrows
  • Points, and can sign some letters of the alphabet
  • Uses negation – a head shake alone or with negative sign “no” or “can’t”
  • Uses up to 40 signs, but understands many more

You Can

  • Respond to what your child is signing rather than how he or she signs it
  • Accept and expand your child’s sign attempts and respond naturally with adult signs
  • Sign ASL stories with books, without books, with made up stories about pictures
  • Hand shape stories
  • Show your child sign story videotapes and ASL poetry videotapes for children
  • Have a conversation by signing back when your child signs to you
  • Play games using toys and objects that your child enjoys


From Eighteen Months to Twenty-four Months

Milestones

  • Uses 20 or more ASL words at 18 months
  • Combines two or more ASL words, such as “bath upstairs,” “bye bye daddy,” “stroller outside,” “baby cry”
  • Linguistically points to self and others
  • Begins to tell stories about the here and now
  • Loves ASL stories and stories from books
  • Copies actions and facial expressions of characters in a story
  • Takes turns talking back and forth with you
  • By 24 months may have a vocabulary of more than 200 words

You Can

  • Use a variety of signs and facial expressions when you have a conversation with your child
  • Recognize and respond to the meaning that’s conveyed in your child’s facial expressions
  • Act out stories with your child
  • Encourage your child to play with other children who use ASL, for example, at play groups or ASL story circle times
  • Have fun playing with your child and communicating about everything in his or her and your world!



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