Using Sign Language To Support Speech In Kids With Special Needs

“It’s Signing Time With Alex and Leah!” This is the refrain that goes through my head all day, every day. Avery loves this show more than any other. Signing Time teaches sign language in a simple but engaging way.

We signed with DS from the time he was a baby. He picked it up right away and was soon signing, “More cookie please!” before he could speak. It was fun and novel, but soon he began talking a blue streak and left the signing behind.

Then Avery came along. When she was first diagnosed with a chromosomal abnormality doctors told us she would likely never be verbal. We had already been signing with her for “fun” but continued to sign out of necessity. Her signs came slowly but steadily. As she grew she was able to easily communicate her needs through sign. Eventually she had more signs than her average peers had words. Her vocabulary was extensive and impressive. I can only imagine her frustration level without sign language.

We were confident in what we were doing but others questioned our choice to sign with Avery. “Why would she even try to speak if she can just sign?” I explained (on MANY occasions) that in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Children who sign often speak earlier and have a broader vocabulary than children who don’t.

Today, at nearly four years old, Avery is talking. She has an age appropriate number of single verbal words and hearing those words pass her lips is the sweetest sound. Avery has trouble forming sentences longer than two to three words so she’ll use signs to bridge the gap between words. For example, “May (sign) I (verbal) be excused (sign and verbal together)?”

I love the way Rachel the creator and host of Signing Time explains the actions behind the signs. It makes it so much easier to remember them.

My advice to new parents is always the same; sign with your baby. It has nothing but positive effects. Avery has benefited immensely and even my son who is now seven, continues to sign with his sister and with me. He and I have our own secret language. He always signs, “I love you mom,” when I drop him off at school in the morning. It’s sweet. On the not so sweet side, my best friend who signed with her chatty son as a baby (he’s now 3.5 and he talks until he’s blue in the face) often sign to each other for our own personal amusement. We were out with a group of woman one night when from across the room she looked at me and signed, “Dirty slut” to which I signed back, “Whatever, shithead.*” Mature. I know. Life is stressful ok? If you can’t call your best friend rude names via gestures, then what is there to look forward to? 

*I did not learn THESE signs from Signing Time. Just to be clear. 😉 

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  • I completely agree – I think kids that sign learn better communication skills earlier. I remember a friend telling me a complete stranger came up to her in a restaurant and told her she was hindering her daughter's speech by teaching her to sign. Which was complete rubbish because her communication skills have developed perfectly well. I did a little with my second son, but really wish I'd done it with both sons.

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