I am very excited to introduce a guest post for today. When Jaylen was non verbal at the age of a year we started using some simple signs. As he got older, yet still couldn’t communicate verbally, we had to use signing as our only means of communication. Using signs helped reduce the number of massive tantrums he was having several times a day due to his inability to process what we were saying and verbalize his wants and needs. Whether you are new to signing with children, or you have done some in the past, you will find Misty’s post informative and convincing.
One of the most frustrating things about autism is the difficulties around communication. The complexities of spoken language can be problematic for children with autism, leading to frustration for both child and parent. Sign language acts as a bridge for communication that strengthens the development of speech and language. Learning sign language at any age provides lots of benefits for children with autism.
Development Of Speech And Language
While spoken language is still developing, all babies and young children find gestures and symbols easier to understand than speech. Pictures and gestures switch on areas of the brain that are inactive without spoken language. Gestures create ‘visual associations’, which are easier for children with autism to learn and understand. In this way, sign language doesn’t replace speech, but acts as a pathway to its development.
Tantrums And Anxiety
Children with autism sometimes display negative behaviors such as tantrums, anxiety and aggression. In all children, these behaviors are much worse when a child can’t communicate what he needs. Sign language gives children a tool for communication, reducing the frustration that children with autism feel if they can’t express themselves. Sign language reduces frustration-based behavior by removing some of the frustration.
Social Interaction And Sign Language
One of the great things about sign language is that it provides a communication tool for children with autism. This is great for the child but it is also wonderful for the parent. Communication is a two way process, so signing also gives parents a useful tool. Communication is a positive spiral – when a child communicates successfully and feels understood he has the confidence to try again. Confidence in the ability to communicate is essential for good social interactions.
Teaching Sign Language To Children With Autism
Sign language is a wonderful tool for children with autism, and for their families and teachers. There are difficulties, however. Let’s look at some of these and how they can be overcome…
Focus And Attention
Because sign language is primarily a visual type of communication it requires the ability to focus intensely for significant periods. In some cases, children with autism have attention deficits which can prevent sign language from being taught successfully. Even in these situations, sign language can be used as part of a package of communication skills, providing the emphasis is on understanding being signed to, not necessarily signing back.
Depending on where in the world you live, sign language may or may not be a well-known form of communication. In some parts of the world, although sign language is beneficial to a child with autism it could isolate him from those who do not know sign language. It’s best to encourage all of those who have regular contact with your child to learn a few important signs, including family, friends and teachers.
We know that autism affects each child in a unique way. There is no one right way to proceed when improving communication. The benefits of sign language will be unique to each child. In a few severe cases sign language may not be as helpful as it is to others. It has, however, proved helpful to many families, and must be worth a try.