Using Sign Language

Should I teach my child sign language? If I use sign language with my toddler, will he or she avoid talking?

The use of sign language is a great way for children to communicate before they are able to talk. It is appropriate for children who are typically developing and for children with developmental delays. Parents can start modeling signs well before their baby is babbling or talking, and children are able to produce signs much earlier than they are able to produce verbal speech. Signs can also augment speech production, when a child’s speech is difficult to understand. Current research indicates that the use of sign language helps to encourage speech and language development and does NOT prevent children from using verbal speech in the future.

Sign language can help prevent or lessen the intensity of behaviors or tantrums because it provides a way for the child to easily and quickly communicate requests, such as asking for more food or more of a fun activity with “more,” or asking to end an activity with “all done.”

Only a few signs are necessary to increase effective communication with young children. Always pair the sign with the spoken word it represents. In speech therapy, we often teach “more” and “all done” first, followed by “eat,” “drink,” “help,” and “bathroom/diaper.” It may also be helpful to teach a sign for a favorite toy or activity, such as “ball,” “baby,” or “bubbles.” The standard signs are best learned using a video dictionary or pictures. Young children may not be able to produce the sign exactly, so it’s ok to use any gesture that makes the most sense to you, as long as you are consistent in using the same gesture every time for that word.

If you have questions about your child’s speech or language development, contact a speech-language pathologist, or request an evaluation.

Call us for more details: In Sioux Falls, 605-444-9700. In Sioux City, 712-226-ABLE (2253). In Rapid City, 605-791-7400.

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Beth Wienhold, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist, LifeScape