Sign language is a great way to communicate with each other. All types of people are now using sign language as a form of
communication. A child who is not verbal, can use signing to express his or her needs.
Teaching a child with a developmental disability sign language with speech will accelerate their ability to speak. One possible
reason is that both forms of communication stimulate the same area of the brain. When utilizing the Signed Speech method, the
area of the brain involved in speech production is receiving stimulation from two sources (signing and speaking) rather than
stimulation from one source (signing or speaking).

Signing is useful for children with autism and other behavioral disorders. Many atypical behaviors associated with autism and
other developmental disabilities, such as aggression, tantrums, self-injury, anxiety, and depression, are often caused by the
inability to communicate to others.

Speech allows the child to communicate using signs and may stimulate verbal language skills. When teaching to use sign language
the child may concentrate their attention on social gestures and turn taking.
When beginning a sign language program, it is best to start with signs expressing basic needs, such as the need to eat, drink, and
use the toilet. In this way, the child will be motivated to use the signs to communicate needs. Learning to sign may take anywhere
from a few minutes to a few months to teach the first sign; but as the child acquires more and more signs, they will be much
easier and faster to learn.

Teaching sign language to children with autism and other developmental disabilities does not interfere with learning to talk; and
there is research evidence indicating that teaching sign language along with speech will actually accelerate verbal communication.

Benefits of Signed Speech

Signs can be used at different levels.
•        As individual words
•        To highlight key words in a sentence.
•        To sign all the words in a sentence.
•        To convey all of the grammatical information in sentences including word endings and verb tenses.
•        Attention.
•        Memory.
•        Understanding vocabulary and concepts.
•        Learning to say words.
•        Using sentences and developing word order.
•        Communication and social skills.

Many children with speech, language and communication difficulties may have and underlying problem with processing auditory
information. They take a longer time to understand spoken information than most children. Using signed speech when you are
talking to a child provides them with 2 input channels to process information:
auditory and visual. Signs last longer than words,
so the child has much greater opportunity to successfully understand the message. In addition, when you use signing, you
naturally slow your rate of spoken speech down, which allows more time for the child to process the information and think about
how to respond.

Understanding Language

The initial progress in recognizing and producing signs can be very slow. Once children understand the process of 'learning how
to learn' signs, they usually make rapid progress, so it is worth the initial high level of input. Some children need help learning how
to copy and make signs. The adult may need to assist in physically positioning fingers, as motor planning and sequencing skills
may be poor. Signed speech is very good for promoting fine motor skills development.


Many children with speech, language and communication difficulties need to be taught how to focus sustain their attention control
successfully. Some children may not be able to filter the 'block out' information: learning environment may have to be adapted by
reducing external stimuli.
When you use signing it is a natural way of encouraging and developing eye contact and looking skills, using signing helps to
focus the child's attention on the speaker. Using signing makes the adult more aware of correct positioning and physical proximity
to enhance learning and communication skills: it encourages the adult to position the child so that they can see his or her face. The
adult is now in a position to monitor and encourage looking and listening skills. Children using signing also more naturally look at
each other, which supports interaction in paired or group work.

Using Language

By accompanying new vocabulary with signed speech, a child's vocabulary retention and accessing skills can be improved
significantly and so can their confidence in making verbal contributions.
Children with speech, language and social communication difficulties often need extra support in learning the rules and language
required for effective social interaction. Teaching children to sign as they speak provides them with secure means of successfully
communicating with peers and adults.*
*Information provided by: Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. Center of Autism, and Georgiana MacAnley PGSS Using Visual Support

Baby Sign Language

The first year of life sets the stage for the development of language. While most babies will not utter their first words or
sentences until the second year of life, the foundation for language, including sound perception and production, communicative
gestures, and non-linguistic cognition, is pre-speech "conversations” for babies and their parents.

When parents speak and read to a child they foster language development by providing form & structure, ways in which words
are put together, and how to distinguish units of speech. Parents help their infant develop babbling, vocal turn-taking supports
communication development. Focusing on the objects and topics that are of interest to the child parents provide appropriate
feedback and verbal labels to their environment.

Sign language training in infancy has been used as a vehicle for parental support of pre-speech development. Sign language uses a
manual type of communication but provides the same language foundation used in oral communication. Signing is thought to be
easier than oral communication for young infants to master.

Sign language learning is meant to teach infants to express their thoughts. Like verbal language, sign language uses symbols to
represent ideas. The connection between the sign and the object in mind might be easier for the young child to learn because, as
symbols, signs resemble the object in mind more closely than would a word. The use of symbolic gestures is thought to provide
parents with an opportunity to create more meaningful language learning interaction between themselves and their infants. For
example, when a pre-lingual child points out a dog to the mother, the mother says and signs the word for dog, and then shows
her child how to produce the sign by manipulating the child's hands. This helps the child go beyond pointing to produce the
symbol for "dog". Early signing may advance language development based on evidence that the frequency of care giver-infant
interaction predicts vocabulary and cognitive growth. These methods give children an advantage in early vocal word production.

Baby sign language programs, books and videos claim that using gestural signs to communicate with pre-lingual infants promotes
language acquisition, reduces frustration, increases cognitive functioning, and improves early communication. A substantial
number of programs and products are available to train parents to communicate with their pre-lingual baby using gestural signing.
Claims of benefits range from advancements in language development and literacy to increased intimacy between parent and
infant and decreased infant frustration.

Information provided by University of Ottawa
J. Cyne topshee Johnston
Andree Durieux-Smith
University of Waterloo
Kathleen Bloom

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