Why Learn Sign Language?

Many infants, who are exposed to sign language before six months of age, often develop cognitive skills at an earlier age. These babies will begin signing on their own sooner than normally expected. They will also sign with a larger vocabulary. It is almost like turning on a switch when a child connects signing and the need or object the sign represents. Like learning to talk, developing communication skills only makes a human being want to find additional ways to expand that ability. That is true for infants also. This is one huge reason why signing babies tend to talk sooner than non-signing babies.

Children with Special Needs: Who Benefits?


Sign language is typically only thought of in the context of the deaf community and children with hearing impairments. However, there are multiple populations and contexts in which sign language is beneficial.


Some of these include children with special needs such as:


  • Apraxia

  • Autism

  • Cerebral Palsy

  • Communication Impairments

  • Down Syndrome

  • Deafness/Hearing Impairment

  • Language Learning Disability (LLD)

  • Various Learning Delays

  • Medical non-verbal needs, i.e. tracheotomy

  • Varying degrees of mental impairment    


My child has special needs. What are the benefits of using sign language?


Research indicates multiple advantages for development in children with special needs. The development of speech, language, social, emotional and academic skills is enhanced through the use of sign language.


Learning Signs - Speech and Language Benefits

Sign language accelerates the acquisition of speech by stimulating areas of the brain that are associated with speech and language. Babies develop the gross motor skills needed for signing before they develop the fine motor skills associated with verbal speech. Signing provides language stimulation and conception that enhances vocabulary development in children. Many children with special needs experience difficulty with expressive language and verbal ability. Sign language gives these children access to communication while strengthening the ability to produce expressive speech.


Special Needs - Social Benefits of Sign Language

Children with special needs often experience frustration when communication becomes difficult. This frustration manifests itself in the form of temper tantrums, aggression, depression and other socially unacceptable behaviors. Sign language reduces frustration by providing a way to expressively communicate in situations where verbal communication may not be successful. Sign language breaks down communication barriers for children with various disabilities and needs.


Emotional Benefits - Sign Language

By expanding vocabulary and social opportunities, sign language

naturally enhances self-esteem. Children who face communication

barriers benefit greatly when they are provided with various

accesses to language and learning. These children develop better

communication skills through sign language and are consequently

happier and more independent.


Academic Benefits - Children with Special Needs

Children begin to develop language from the time that they are born.

The brain begins to make connections through auditory and visual

input. Children with special needs often have one or more impairments

that affect normal development in the brain. Sign language essentially

jump-starts theareas of the brain that are linked to speech and language development. Language is a primary building block for learning and academic development. Sign language stimulates intellectual development and helps children to retain information longer because it supplements speech input. Using many modes of input strengthens connections in the brain and therefore benefits academic development.


My child requires special needs - When should I/we start using Sign Language?

As soon as possible! Babies develop language and knowledge from stimuli in their environment

beginning from birth. Research has shown that babies develop the fine motor skills needed to form speech at approximately one year old. The gross motor skills needed for sign language develop months earlier. The frustration for most parents of children with special needs is that identification often does not occur this early. Signing with your baby regardless of special needs is a most wonderful idea; and, it is never too late.


As soon as a child is identified with a special need, sign language can immediately be used to provide numerous developmental benefits. Who else utilizes sign language for its magnificent benefits? Sign language is becoming more widespread in the United States. It is commonly being used in homes across the country with hearing, hearing impaired and special needs family members. It is commonly thought that sign language is only for the Deaf community, but this is not true! The benefits of sign language are applicable to everyone. For this reason, sign language is also being implemented in various educational settings. It is used not only in deaf education classrooms, but also in special education classrooms and preschool classrooms. It is also used in unconventional settings such as hospitals.


Many hospitals find sign language to be useful with both adult and pediatric patients that have a communication barrier, such as a tracheotomy. The benefits of sign language are so great that it is increasing in popularity in a variety of contexts!


Should I Sign With My Special Needs Child?

Ultimately the decision to sign with a special needs child is up to the parent alone. The most important thing a parent should keep in mind is that these children often need input from multiple modalities. These modalities can be visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Sign language is a wonderful and beneficial tool for providing visual benefit in addition to verbal/auditory input. When there is a deficiency in one area, such as language learning disorder, one modality can provide a foundation for the development of another. Sign language can scaffold the acquisition of speech-language development as well as social and academic development.