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Sign Language and Down Syndrome

Children with Down syndrome often have delayed speech and language challenges. They often have smaller jaws, lower muscle tones in their tongues and higher arched palates -which often results in lessened intelligibility and articulation. In addition, these children have a much harder time learning to talk (expressive language) than with understanding what they hear (receptive language). Sign language is a highly visual language and individuals with DS are visual learners which makes the learning and retention significantly easier. Studies have also shown that in combining speech with signing there is an increase in overall language development for all ages and abilities. Furthermore, learning sign language can enhance communication and improve both receptive and expressive language. Contrary to some beliefs, research demonstrates that signing does not prevent a child from speaking, it actually supports it (Millar and Light). Incorporating sign language simply acts as a stepping stone to speech.

Hearing loss is also very common in children with Down syndrome. According to the Health Care Guidelines for People with Down Syndrome, about 75% of people with trisomy will have some degree of hearing loss throughout their lives. Knowing sign language reduces isolation and provides a viable communication tool with others. There is also substantial, and growing, evidence for the effectiveness of signing throughout life in promoting language and communication in both children and adults with Down syndrome.

Learning sign language for individuals with Down syndrome:

  • Boosts confidence

  • Reduces frustration

  • Is a valuable tool for developing speech

  • Improves cognitive development

  • Increases overall communication ability

Visual modeling, music and gaming all make for easy and accessible engagement for individuals with Down syndrome to learn, this is especially true with sign language.

GraceSigns mobile apps use multiple modalities of learning (visual, auditory and tactile) and learners are entertained and taught through videos, words both spoken and written, music and gaming. GraceSigns apps also feature individuals with Down syndrome as the sign language presenters and are free to download from the App Store and Google PlayStore.

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