I haven't posted in a while; so I decided to stop waiting for divine enlightenment and start talking about what I know. Right now I know that my 15 month old can only say about 10 words--and only my husband and I can really decipher them! However, she can also sign about 10 words (mostly different ones, except for milk and more...she says something along the lines of moa and signs them at the same time). The nice thing about that is, close family and friends who know the signs can understand what she is saying (which is nice when you have as many kids rotating through yours house as we do). If people don't know what she is signing, they can ask once, and then they will always know what she means.
Starting at about 10 months, my little "princess" has been quite the fit thrower. I don't really see the point of a time out or similar punishment at such a young age (although at 15 months, we are starting to get to that phase). Along that line, although swats helped her know to stop when mommy said "no," she would just throw a bigger fit if I swatted her for throwing a fit (which is understandable...don't you feel the same way when you get cut down for just trying to get your point across). So, I decided she needed to learn how to communicate what she wanted. When I first taught her to sign, it took her a while (I think she was 12 months before she started signing). In the mean time, it gave me peace of mind that I was doing something about the problem, and it made her more willing to patiently wait for mommy or daddy to figure out what she wanted.
Somehow, even before she could do it, she seemed to feel like she had more control when I showed her a sign, and then showed her the result of that sign . For example, when she would cry in the morning, just after waking up, because she wanted a bottle, I would wait until she was done throwing herself on the floor, show her the sign for milk, and then give her that "sweet nectar of life" she was addicted to! The other thing my daughter would do was cry if she ran out of food when she was still hungry. I would wait until she calmed down, sign "more" and give her more food. Slowly the fits got shorter, and she eventually picked up the signs. She was a little later than is normally predicted, but she was also born three weeks early; so for her, she was right on time. Of course she picked up "more" before "milk" or "please," and then promptly started saying in in reference to everything. I'm okay with that though, because she stopped throwing fits when she knew I was able to help her when she had some way of telling me what she needed. It was really nice. Neither of us felt helpless anymore. It was right about that time that she became much more independent too (wanting to feed herself more, wanting to climb things herself, walking, looking at books by herself). Although, that part was hard, we all know how important it is for healthy growth--and I was so proud of her! I don't know if signing and independence correlated, but it sure seemed to help. She was definitely more confident about know what she wanted!
In my non-professional opinion, it also helped her language skills tremendously! At the point when we started signing, she was behind in speech. She didn't really know any words besides mama and dada (and I'm not even really sure if she knew what those meant). Now she is a little bit ahead, because she can communicate 20 words and she is learning new words everyday. She has started picking up new sounds, which creates opportunity to pronounce new words (which she is taking advantage of). My daughter has never been ahead doing anything! Now, I know that doesn't mean much, because kids level out around age three. Still, it is really nice not to have to wait to communicate.
After a while, the nuance wore off, and she got tired of using more and please for everything. I too got tired of trying to decipher what she meant. So, next, we taught her "eat," "all done," "play," "sleep," "want," "fruit" (her favorite food), and "thank you." That doesn't take care of everything, but it sure helps. At least now, even if she doesn't have a word for everything she needs, she has something close enough for me to know where to start. After my experience with signing, I definitely suggest to all moms of young or disabled kids.