More than two decades ago, Marilyn Daniels began researching the benefits of sign language — not just for deaf people, but for hearing children and babies and those with learning disabilities and autism.
Several books and many seminars and classes for parents and educators later, the studies by Daniels and others have proven true. Today, ASL (American Sign Language) is taught in colleges, universities, preschool and elementary schools and is the third most used language in the United States.
“It's more popular than ever,” partly because learning the manual language creates anatomical changes in the brain, Daniels told a group of parents and teachers during an October presentation called “Sign to Speak” at the Spring Lake Library.
Introducing a new language promotes the growth of synapses that connect to memory, she said. “We have separate stores for each language in the brain's left hemisphere (in right-handed people). We know this from observing PET (positron emission tomography) scans.”
Teaching sign language, which is visual, manual and spacial, along with the spoken word to a hearing child, multiplies their sensory memories. Another memory, the kinesthetic or muscle memory, also kicks in, she said.
“Your hand remembers how to do it,” Daniels said. “So if you know the sign for a word, all kinds of other things are going on.”
And all of it good, she said. “There is no downside to this.”
Erica Lozinski, a special-education teacher at Wall Primary School, agrees. She said she signs to her students, whose disabilities range from speech delays and autism to cognitive disabilities and Down syndrome.