Should I teach my child sign language? The answer is “yes!” Whether your child is a baby and is showing no speech and language delays or your child is a 3 year old who is not yet talking, sign language will be beneficial. It is a language of gestures, and gestures are a precursor to verbal communication. They also are used throughout the lifespan to support oral communication.
The motor skills needed for sign language will develop before the motor skills for speech production develop. Sign language will provide tactile cues, visual cues, and physical cues that aid in development of communication, and it helps with the development of imitation, which is needed in order for a baby to be able to learn verbal speech.
Sign language can be taught through hand over hand direction if the child is unable to imitate gestures. The communication partner can take the child’s fingers and move them into the correct position to form a sign. The child can then look and see that his or her fingers are the same as the adult’s, and the child gains a reward by receiving the desired object that the sign represents. This natural reward encourages the child to do the sign again in order to again gain a reward. This will also help in developing the cognitive skill of symbolic function. This means that a child will understand that one thing can represent another, which will help greatly in developing play skills and further developing social interactions that encourage even more verbal communication.
The use of sign language will help a baby or any young child connect with others to form social relationships. As a child learns and uses signs that others can understand, he/she is given a way to communicate wants and needs to others. When others respond to the use of sign, the child will see that he can control his environment through the use of gestures. This will result in more attempts at communication and more social interactions. The child will begin to look for opportunities to communicate as he or she is given an effective means to tell others what is needed. Each time the child uses a sign to communicate, the communication partner should be using the verbal word, which provides continuous language stimulation. Over time, children who have no hearing deficits or motor deficits affecting their speech production, begin to imitate these sounds and use them along with the sign language. As the child’s motor system develops, social relationships improve, and vocabulary improves, the child will make more attempts at verbalizing wants and needs.
Verbal communication is our ultimate goal, but until verbal speech is acquired, sign language will make your interactions with your child much more rewarding for both of you.