How Sign-Language Can Help Late Talkers

This hot topic issue has been in the press for some time now. What is the truth? Can the use of sign language really help your toddler start talking? The answer is… yes! Continue reading to discover the truth about late-talking toddlers and sign language.

How Sign-Language Can Help Late Talkers:

  • We learn to use language through three modes: gestures, oral language, and written language. Children develop these skills in that order. For instance, children will wave bye before they say “bye”, before they write it!child and sign language
  • An important developmental skill, symbolic function, is what helps children realize that one thing (gestural or verbal) represents another. For example, the word “pig” represents the pink animal on the farm. Just the same, putting your hands together to sign “more” represents the idea of receiving additional food, toys, turns, etc.
  • We establish symbolic function by using sign first, before verbal language. Why?
    • The physical ability to make a sign using large muscle groups is less complicated than the intricate coordination of our articulators (lips, tongue, teeth, etc) that we use to speak.
    • Sign also helps the child’s ability to learn imitation. Sign, a static, visual event is easier to process and store in long term memory than a fleeting auditory stimuli (e.g. spoken word).
  • Once the ability to imitate sign has been established, the child learns that he has control over his environment. He will continue to use sign (and eventually verbal language) to control his situation with more consistency.
  • *Research shows that children with expressive language delays learned more words across treatment conditions (and did so more quickly) when given sign and verbal models (at the same time) as opposed to verbal models alone.
  • It is important to note that signing requires joint-attention (the adult and child attend to an object at the same time) and eye contact from the child to be as successful as possible!

*Robertson, S. & Weiskerger, K. (2003). The effects of sign on the expressive vocabularies of two late talking toddlers, Poster presented at the Pennsylvania Speech-Language Hearing Association State Convention, Harrisburg, PA.

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