Talk With Your Hands
By Karin Howard, M.A., CCC-SLP
As parents there are lots of little extra efforts we can make to be supportive of our young children's communication growth. There are many skills involved when children are developing their speech and language. Children learn the ability to make the outward effort to express themselves; they form a way to understand once they have made the effort; and they develop the ability to understand the information taken in from their surroundings. As we are all individuals with unique strengths and challenges, these amazing accomplishments are carried out in different ways and at different times.
By the same token, there are common threads to this process which present opportunities for you to be proactive. The use of sign language with hearing children is one excellent way to help our little ones along with their development. To get you started, here is a list several signs that are appropriate for children 1-3 years of age - eat, drink, play, good, happy, sad, mom and dad. The following procedures will be a good guideline to use when working with your children.
- First, practice these signs by yourself so that you become consistent with the signs you use with your child. Don't worry if they are not exact according to American Sign Language (ASL), just make sure that you use the same sign for play each time you use it. The most important thing is that you are consistent. Remember, your child will replace these signs with accurate verbal productions when he is ready and his use of the signs will then fade.
Begin to introduce these signs to your child. Use the signs when it is appropriate, for example, when your child is looking for food and you know it's time to eat, sign "eat" as you say, "Let's find you something to eat." Always use verbal productions along with your signed attempts, as this article is addressing hearing children. The verbal and signed communication will allow your child to take in the auditory as well as the visual modality for a multi-sensory and enriched experience.
After continued use of signing your child may use some of these signs expressively. Give enthusiastic verbal and signed praise. Their use of expressive signs may be with or without a verbal attempt. Either way is great. Remember also to follow up by supporting your child's communication attempt. For example, if your child signs "play", then play with them, or at least let them know you understand what they were trying to communicate by saying something like "How great you told me you want to play, okay Mommy will play with you soon".
As stated earlier, when your child achieves a close enough approximation of the verbal production and they are being understood they will usually drop the signed production and move on with only verbal attempts to communicate, which is appropriate.
So have fun and maybe you will be motivated to take a closer look at the wonders of communicating with your hands!
Karin Howard is a practicing speech/language pathologist in Los Angeles. She has taught "Mommy and Me" classes that emphasize speech and language to aid parents of typically developing infants and toddlers. She is also the creator of "Exploring Language through Song and Play," a CD set with an accompanying lyric and activity book. You can learn more about this CD set here. There is also a Buy Now button on the upper right side bar of this website if you wish to purchase this CD set.