Signing Adventures

Watch some videos about teaching sign language to children. Part 2 coming soon. 

When can I start teaching my child sign language?
a: There is never a better time to start than now, children can begin to learn to sign as early as 6 months old.

Will my child want to talk if he is successful with sign language?
a: Yes! A typical child will learn to speak at their natural rate. He or she will  be able to enjoy communicating with sign language, sharing thoughts, requesting needs and becoming less frustrated. Without all the frustration of trying to communicate, the act of learning to “talk/speak” typically happens in a fun, less stressful environment. The motor movements involved in signing are easier than the motor movements for speaking. This is why many children can learn to sign prior to speaking if taught to do so. But the child will naturally babble and talk at the same rate they would without learning to sign. 

What are the most important signs to teach my child first?
a: Children want to communicate their basic thoughts, needs and wants: milk, mom, dad, bird, dog, more, please, all done. The list really depends on your child and your family’s needs.  

How do I teach my baby sign language? 
a: The best way to teach your child sign language is to demonstrate the signs frequently, just as you would speak to him or her.  In the same way you ask your child if they want “more,” use the sign for “more.” When he or she looks a little bit like they are gesturing, get excited in the same way we get excited when they babble, “dadada.” This type of natural teaching will help your child to learn and love sign language.

My babies signs are inaccurate. Why doesn’t he/she sign correctly?
a: Babies start by approximating the signs, in the same way they approximate spoken words (nanna- banana). They often point to their chin to say, “mommy.” As they grow, their signs can also improve if  you continue to teach them. 

What are the signs in Buster Breaks Loose video?
a: There are 23 signs including: love, dog, mom, dad, more, work, baby, water, drink, cheese, milk, cereal, banana, apple, egg, cookie, eat, cow, book, please, thank you, your welcome, finished (all done). The movie makes it fun and easy to learn.  

Are signs the same all over the country? Sometimes I see a sign being used and it is different from the one I learned. 
a: There are several reasons for that. ASL, American Sign Language, is frequently the preferred signs to use when teaching sign language. Signing Adventures will usually use ASL signs. But, there are other forms of sign language, including Signed English. I first learned sign language at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf (ENCSD) where they focused on Signing Exact English. Years later, when I returned to sign language, I realized that many of the signs I used were not typical of ASL. You will notice the sign for “apple” on the Buster Breaks Loose video is signed using the letter “a,” which is the signed English version. It is similar, and my deaf advisors assured me that it was “fine.”  There are also some regional variations of different ASL signs. We will do our best to use the most common and accurate signs possible. 

What about a child with disabilities, will that child want to talk if they already know how to sign? 
a: There are so many reasons why a child might not be able to talk. If sign language works for that child, you have opened a world of communication for him or her that they otherwise might not have. In most cases, the SLP will work with vocalizing/ verbalizing while teaching signs. The act of learning signs does not inhibit the ability to learn to speak. In some cases, it helps as the child is more relaxed and having fun interacting with others. There may be physical or cognitive reasons for a specific child to have a more difficult time with verbal communication. 

Some people say that picture boards are better than sign language because after a child learns to sign, most other people will not understand him or her.  Is this true?
a: First, I truly believe that the people who want to communicate with your child will use whatever method you are using. Sign language for children is simple enough if you start with a few words and build on it gradually. Sign language is a true language, and using signs is the same as using words in regards to how well your child is communicating. However, there are several methods of communication to try while working with children with a variety of speech/language disorders. Sometimes a person may choose a picture board or device rather than sign language. It is a blessing to find something that works with your child or client, whatever it is. Many children use sign, voicing and pictures, if that is what they need. Whatever methods of communication you and your speech therapist decide to use, it is important for you to be consistent and use that method everywhere and often throughout the day. If your child works better with a picture board, or device, be sure to have it available so that he or she can practice it, and use it when they want to say something. If sign language is the method that you want to try with your child, I wouldn’t worry about how much other people understand. I have seen many communication devices, from simple boards to expensive technology, left on a shelf or in a drawer because a caregiver did not know how to use it, or was not able to take the time to learn. That is a sad truth. It is the same with sign. A good caregiver, teacher, classroom aid, or family member will want to learn to use whatever method you and your child are learning. Give them time and encouragement. On a positive note, signing is not dependent on batteries, or having a board within reach. And in this current age of electronics, there are apps that show different signs available for your phone.  

Can you give us an example of a child who needs to learn to communicate?
a: JP was born premature, 1 pound 2 ounces. His vocal nerve was cut during a heart surgery leaving one cord paralyzed. JP could not cry out loud, coo or babble. His parents and speech therapist worked with both pictures and sign language to help him communicate. As JP grew, he was determined to talk. With one paralyzed vocal cord, other muscles in his larynx compensated to allow more and more vocalization. His voice will be different, but he continues to be clearer and clearer in his ability to be understood. This is JP’s story: