Saturday, November 3, 2012

Early Sign Language

I will usually include sign language as part of a “total communication” approach  when teaching my youngest speech therapy students to speak.  The total communication approach I have used over the years includes: early sign language, visual phonics, production of early speech sounds and early words, a picture exchange system as indicated, along with the development of oral-motor skills to produce early sound productions.

The benefits for sign language in early communication is very high. I explain early on to the parents that we are not teaching them sign for his/her only way of communicating, but as one method of several components. It is not to be in replace of verbalizations, but only to help  enhance it.  I also emphasize that the sign does not have to be exact. Each students fine motor abilities differs and they may not be able to make the full movement for the sign. Since they will most likely not be using sign as their only means of communication in the future, any movement that is close to the sign they are wanting to make is just fine. The student will keep developing the sign as their abilities increase. As long as the parent and other immediate communication partners are aware of what they are trying to communicate we congratulate them for their effort for attempting! We can continue to repeat and model. The positive reinforcement they receive for knowing that their attempts are pleasing to the most important people in their worlds to them is very motivating for their communication growth. 

Over the years, I have found that signing can have immediate positive effects in communication exchanges with a student.  Parents have expressed to me often that they are excited and happy to see their child attempt to communicate and to not appear frustrated all of the time. Many toddlers are able to understand very well long before they can verbally express themselves. When they know what they want to say, but do not have the ability to express it ,they can become frustrated, with the result  being called,  "The Terrible Two's":) Sign language can be introduced as early as 6-8 months and with early exposure, consistent repetition, and encouragement , child may begin using it depending on their abilities around 10-12 months. Many of the early speech students I have begin around the age of two and at that age many of them have the cognitive, and fine motor abilities to begin imitating right away.

Signing seeds other positive results such as teaching the skill s of eye contact, joint attention,  and turn taking .  Also, children learn that communication takes two people and a series of exchanges to be successful. Through the years I have begun to teach signs in an order that seemed to come naturally to the early  speech sounds, and early word combinations that I was introducing; i.e. , I begin with "more" since the "M" is an early speech sound and than move onto "on/off“,  since they are easier words to produce.  The sign "more" incorporates well in therapy tasks i.e. ,"Do you want  more toys?” Parents can use "more" during feeding and play i.e., "Do you want more crackers?”. "On and Off" is used when putting an object "on" and "off" during play.

Over the years, I have compiled my own visuals from different resources i.e., Signing Time, Baby Sign Language and American Sign Language. My signs are a combination of all of the suggested ways of signing.  This packet is a nice summary of the signs that I use most and the order that I like to introduce them. In addition, I would like share the links  to each of the signing sites who should be given credit for my summarized approach. 

Signing Time
Baby Sign Language
Lifeprint American Sign Language

But, I wanted to make my own packet so my signs and the order that I usually introduce them could be all in one location. This packet can be found at our Teachers Notebook and Teachers Pay Teachers shops using the following links: TpT  Teachers Notebook

Please leave a comment if you have any questions, comments or if you would like to share your ideas on speech and language development and therapy methods as well.

Thank you!

Shanda Gaunt M.S. CCC/SLP

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