Special Needs Communication: Sign Language

Special needs communication in the form of sign language is not just for the deaf and hard of hearing!

Many people, who for various reasons may not be capable of speaking or whose language is very limited are discovering that they’re able to communicate quite effectively with others by using sign language.

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*(This post contains affiliate links.)

When my daughter, Bethany was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age two, she was still not saying a word. (early sign of autism.)

In addition to that, after the surgery to remove the tumor, she suffered a stroke which caused significant damage to the speech area of her brain.

I had been holding out hope that Bethany would some day talk.

But when she was still not saying a word by age three, my husband and I knew we needed to find another way to help her communicate her wants and needs.

She would become frustrated and upset when she tried to communicate with us and we couldn’t understand her.

When one especially trying day, Bethany kept pointing to her ELBOW and then at the television, it dawned on me that she was trying to tell me she wanted to watch her ELMO video!

Out of intense need, Bethany had figured out a way to communicate what she wanted!

She had just made up her first, very own sign!

That single act made me realize that sign language would probably be a great alternative form of special needs communication for her!

The very next day I purchased a sign language book and began teaching Bethany the signs for common items and objects in her environment.

When Bethany took off like a rocket, learning the signs of her favorite foods, toys, and places my husband and I made the decision to find a sign language instructor who could teach our whole family proper signs.

That way everyone would be able to understand and communicate with Bethany!

We were blessed to find the amazing Maria,  mom of two deaf children who was fluent in sign language and was willing to teach it to us!

She suggested that because Bethany could hear, we should learn Signing Exact English  (SEE), rather than ASL.

By learning SEE Bethany could more effectively learn to associate each word we spoke with it’s correct sign.

So for the next year, Maria taught all of us the signs for just about anything and everything Bethany would ever want or need!

Finally, Bethany had a way to communicate with us successfully and life became a little less stressful for all of us!

I would like to interject here, that we did try teaching Bethany to use other forms of special needs communication, also.

We attempted to teach her how to use the following low tech assistive technology devices: Cheap Talk and Go Talk.

We had decided that if she could learn to communicate with either of those devices, we would invest in a higher tech communication device called the Dynavox.

But Bethany absolutely hated carrying the Go Talk around and never really made the connection that she could use either of the low tech devices for communicating.

She thought they ere just fun games to play!

Ultimately, sign language proved to be Bethany’s preferred method of communication.

Somewhere along the way, Bethany finally began talking and we gradually just stopped using sign language.

However,  to this day, Bethany still signs numbers and colors, and loves to finger spell everyone’s names!

Learning to sign was most definitely not a deterrent to Bethany learning how to speak.

In fact, I believe that learning to sign acted as catalyst in her eventual acquisition of spoken language .

I honestly cannot think of any good reason to deny teaching a non-verbal child sign language if they are receptive to it.

The only disadvantage might be, that not everyone your child comes into contact with will understand sign language.

I truly believe that non-verbal children should be given every chance and opportunity to learn as many alternative special needs communication methods as possible!

Another good book for learning sign is Signing Signed English: A Basic Guide.

What do you think about special needs communication?

Do you have any words of wisdom you can add to the conversation? Leave them in the comments below!

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*This post may contain affiliate links. Thanks in advance if you should decide to purchase an item through one of our links at not extra cost to you. 100% of all commissions earned from sales go directly toward providing a better quality of life for our daughter, Bethany, a brave brain tumor survivor and special girl!

If you have a minute, please check out our Amazon Store where I have put together a list of my favorite books and resources and Bethany’s favorite games and products and our Etsy Shop where you can instantly download vintage book illustrations and prints of Bethany’s paintings!

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15 Replies to “Special Needs Communication: Sign Language

  1. We taught Katie sign language as a young child and she signed things like more for years after she began talking. It somehow helped her make language click.

  2. I had never heard of signing exact English. That’s cool! I do agree sign language may help speech development. Even if it doesn’t, it’s a valid way of communicating.

  3. This is awesome. There’s a deaf woman who lives in my residential facility. Though I’m blind I’ve wanted to learn sign language since meeting her. Of course couldn’t find very good resources. Did find a youtube video of a blind ASL interpreter who is just a really nice person. Will be learning sign language not only to communicate with my friend but hopefully my new friend’s friends too.

  4. All communication is valid. Saying that spoken language is better than signed language is like saying that English is better than French.

  5. This is totally awesome. My best wishes to Bethany. I’m sure she is a very happy young person. Not being able to communicate is rough at any age.

  6. I am a huge fan of sign language for everyone. When J was young, he had a lot of ear troubles. He was a late talker, but we used sign language with him so he could express his needs/wants. He is now 17, and he still shows interest in becoming more fluent in sign language.

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