Milestones for Deaf Babies

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0-3 months

 – 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.

What you can do:
  Comment on things you and your children 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

3 – 6 months

 – 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 colored objects.
Plays with hands and fingers and enjoys hand plays.

What you can do:
– 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 with you.
– Play games using toys and objects that your child enjoys.

6 – 9 months

  Enjoys hand babbling – repetitive hand movements such as opening and closing hands in 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.

What you can do:
Use a variety of signs and facial expressions when you have a conversation with your child.
 – Recognize ad 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!

9 – 12 months

 – 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.

What you can do:
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 expressions when playing with your baby.
Place fun, colorful 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.

12 to 18 months:

 – 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 do 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.

What you can do:
Smile and laugh with your baby.
Sign with your baby to say hat 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.

18 to 24 months:

 – 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 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.

What you can do:
– 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.

Cited with permission from:

Small, A. (2003). ASL Developmental Milestones and What You Can Do. Toronto, Ontario: The Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf and The Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf.

Developed in consultation with McLaughlin, L., Gibson, H. Sandford, R., Roberts, L. Cripps, J., Brunsdon, G. B. Dooley.

Adapted from:

  • Educational Testing Service and Mounty, J. (1993). Sign Language Development Checklist.
  • French, M. (1999). Stages of Language Development: Including Features of American Sign Language. In: Starting With Assessment Toolkit. Washington, D.C.:

Gallaudet University Press.

  • Kegl, J. and Loew, R. Language Acquisition Timetable
  • Marschark, M. (2002). Educating Deaf Students; From Research to Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Petitto, L. (2000) Biological Foundations of Language. In K. Emmorey and H. Lane (Eds.) The signs of language revisited: An anthology in honour of Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima. Mathway, N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.Inc.
  • Sign Talk Development Project (1994). Discovering With Words: A Resource Guide for Developing a Bilingual and Bicultural Preschool Program for Deaf and Hearing Children
  • Wix, T. and Supalla, S. (1993). American Sign Language Acquisition. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona and Arizona state School for the Deaf and Blind.
  • Anderson, D. and Reilly, J. “The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory: Normative Data for American Sign Language”, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Oxford University Press, 7:2 Spring 2002, pg. 94. Reprinted with permission from Oxford University Press.