Sign language can be a very useful tool for helping your preemie communicate with you and the rest of the world. Both of my preemies were delayed in speech so I know how frustrating it can be to try and understand what your preemie wants. There are a lot of books, videos, and websites that can help you learn and teach sign language. Here are some things I have learned while teaching my daughter sign:
1) Start simple. Your preemie isn't going to pick up every sign right away. Pick a few key signs and work on them until your preemie gets the idea and then slowly add more.
2) What signs to start with? Start with signs that can be used in multiple situations. Good ones to start with are: more, all done, help, open, drink, eat, and play.
3) Use playtime to teach signs - When you are playing, start using the signs and encouraging your preemie to do the same. Here are some good way to use some basic signs:
- More - blow some bubbles and let your preemie pop the bubbles. Before you blow more, say more? while you make the more sign. Help your preemie make the sign so he/she can start to get the idea.
- Open - put a toy in a clear container with a lid that is hard to open (zippered bag, peanut butter, lotion container). Have your preemie see you put the toy in and then hand him/her the container. If he/she hands the container to you or tries to open it, say open? while you make the sign. Open the container once your preemie tries to make the sign or you have at least encouraged it several times.
- Help - if your preemie is getting frustrated or tries to indicate that he/she needs help than do the help sign before helping him/her. Try to get him/her to do it before helping them
4) Adapt. Even though it is usually best to use the correct gesture for each sign (so that others understand them), if you need to change them to better suit your preemie's abilities than do it. We have changed the play and help sign so that our daughter can actually do it.
Have fun communicating with your little one!!