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Using Sign Language to Support Speech

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Here are some reasons and ways for using sign language to assist with speech development and hearing challenges.

Improve communication. When signing, body language is used and an array of emotions can be more clearly expressed and understood. For instance with the sign for “mad,” the face is scrunched up with the hand in a front-facing claw position.

Reduce frustration. For those who may have hearing-impairment or speech and/or learning challenges, sign language offers the opportunity to be more communicative.

Increase brain functionality. Studies show that sign language increases brain activity. A Study by Capirici, Cattani, et. al. found that learning sign language could actually improve cognition (intelligence) in typically developing, hearing children.

Start with meaningful signs. Signs like “eat,” “drink,” “potty,” “tired,” “all done,” “friend” and “stop” help with functional communication.

Use signs in context. When someone is eating, introduce the sign for “eat,” so they understand the action and the sign that goes with it.

Vocalize when signing to encourage speech. Try to use signs to support speech and language development, not as a substitute for speech. Always speak and sign.

Decrease yes/no questions. Instead of asking, “do you want milk?,” offer a choice. For instance, “do you want water or milk?,” signing and saying both words. Wait for a response.

Show it, Sign it and Say it. Some people may not remember the label or action when it’s only signed and spoken. The person stands a better chance of understanding the sign and the word in context if visually shown the object. Say the name and demonstrate it in sign language:

  • Show them the object or a picture.

  • Demonstrate the sign for the item or action.

  • Verbalize the name of the object.

How to start? Learning to sign is easy and fun with today’s user-friendly mobile apps.

Laura O'Grady (M.A. CCC-SLP) is a speech-language pathologist in Northern California providing therapy to individuals with a variety of communication challenges.

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