Sign Language for Children: Our Top 10
There is a lot of misunderstanding regarding using sign language for children who have a language delay. Teaching sign language to young toddlers has been found to be beneficial whether or not they have speech and language issues.
Research shows that using alternative means of communication like sign language for children does not stop them from talking and may actually support their ability to speak. This means that using baby sign language can help a child develop their language abilities and not hinder their progress. When a young child uses sign language they can develop their communication system before they even start speaking.
This gives them a head start on communicating. Children as young as 9 months can use sign language, which is even earlier than kids start saying their first words (around 12 months).
This may be the push some children need to begin speaking. This could be especially true for children with Autism. After learning the power of communication (via the use of signs), young children are frequently more motivated to communicate by using their voice since they now understand what will happen if they do so.
Which Signs to Start With?
You don’t have to sign every word you say; instead, pick a few words you’d want to learn and only sign them when they come up in conversation or during more structured tasks. The recommendations from the speech therapists at Therapy Works Together are to use social words that are very functional first. This can help your child be more motivated to use the signs since they will quickly see what happens when they use them.
Remember to always give your child the verbal model for the word as well as the sign. For example, say “more” and provide the sign. You can give your child hand over hand assistance (move their hands in the approximate gesture) until they can do it on their own. You can accept an approximation of the sign as well; meaning, it does not need to be signed perfectly by your child.
- More – a very motivating sign that can be used in a variety of situations (more food, more ball)
- All done – can be used when your child is done with an activity (bath, or eating)
- Gimme – what many kids are thinking anyway; (gimme the toy)
- Open – if your child needs help opening the fridge or the door to the house
- Up – when your child wants to be picked up, taken out of the highchair or bath
- Eat – for any mealtime or snack
- Drink – when they want any type of drink
- Stop – stop the toy car, stop doing what you are doing; gives your child a sense of control
- Go – a great first opposite to ‘stop,’ can be used during play as well like when your child wants the car to ‘go’
- My turn – all toddlers should learn to take turns; this is great during play and can reduce frustration because your child will know how they can ask for their turn
As you teach your child these signs, you may expect them to start using them right away. Some children will start them quicker than others, but don’t get discouraged. Keep giving models (show them how you do it) and wait expectantly for them to try it back. If you model it to them a few times and they don’t reply or get frustrated, move on so that they don’t get frustrated. We don’t want learning learning this new communication method to get annoyed or angry, since when they feel disregulated, they are not able to learn any new skill. You’ll have other opportunities to show it to them.
Give your child plenty of models during the day for these signs and many opportunities to see you using them in a variety of contexts. Teaching sign language for children can be fun and as you learn new signs and start working them into your daily routine. Kids learn best when they learn from their parents during everyday activities (bathtime, mealtime and play with their siblings). There is nothing special needed to provide an enriching language learning environment for your child. Parents often have the skills they need to help their children learn.
Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults
We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.