Should My Child Learn Sign Language?

Effective communication is key for sharing and understanding thoughts. For children who are blind or have low vision with additional disabilities, sign language can help express their needs. Basic signs like “more,” “help,” “play,” and “drink” enable them to communicate desires beyond crying or reaching, enhancing their ability to inform others of their needs.

What Is Sign Language?

Sign language involves hand signs, movements, and gestures for communication. For instance, American Sign Language (ASL) is for the deaf or hard of hearing. Its signs have unique meanings and grammar, not directly mirroring spoken languages. Some sign systems also exist to represent English through manual signs.

If your child is blind or low vision, they will not be able to see you or others signing to them. They may need for you to sign in their hand so that they can feel the sign. Together with other members of the educational team, consideration for how signs should be presented to your child. Consultation from a teacher of students with hearing impairments may be useful.

Unless your child has a significant hearing impairment that prevents them from hearing speech, you may want to use signs to help them learn to use speech rather than as a permanent form of communication.

Tips to Support Your Child with Sign Language Development

  • With other members of your child’s educational team, decide which signs you want your child to learn. A speech-language therapist or communication specialist on the team will often have knowledge in this area that can be applied to the decision.
  • With others on the educational team, pick one sign to begin teaching your child. This should be a sign that your child will be motivated to use and can use it throughout the day, such as “more.” She can sign “more” to get more food, more time playing a game with you, or more music to listen to on her CD player. To help you remember what the sign looks like, ask to have a drawing or picture showing you the sign.
  • Always pair a sign with speech to model both for your child. When they see you using the sign and hear your speech, your child is getting both visual and auditory information. Hearing your voice is important if your child has limited or no vision.
  • Watch your child to see if they develop their own signs, referred to as “home signs,” that they use consistently. Create a simple book with pictures of signs and their meanings. Have your child to carry from home to school and into the community.

As your child becomes more effective in communicating using sign language, you may find that the use of speech increases, and your child may be less frustrated at not being able to share thoughts with others. Social skills may also expand as your child learns to express themself appropriately and respond to the communication of others.