The Benefits of Signing During Language Therapy

I've had too much fun with my latest's time for something serious.
When I was in undergrad school, I took a couple of semesters of "manual communication", i.e., "Sign Language". I had the opportunity to take a couple of refresher courses after being in the profession for about 10 years. As an SLP, knowing simple basic signs is, in my opinion, a must. I only worked with hearing impaired students for a few years, but that doesn't mean that I don't continue to use signs.
We've all heard about the studies that claim to have discovered that signing with babies will increase their language skills. And, we all know that these are controversial. That being said, most of our students need visual cues, so what could be more perfect than using signs? You don't have to be fluent; my skills are comparable to a 3-year old, And, signs are a lot more convenient that using pictures as cues all of the time. They're definitely a lot faster than having to dig up a picture.
When "Whole Language" was all the rage, I team-taught with a Kindergarten teacher. On this particular day that I went into her classroom, the class was on their 2nd or 3rd reading of a big book. They were beginning to "read" the book with the teacher. We were reading through the book and came to the word "and". The kids all stopped and had no idea what the word was. I did the sign for "and", and they got it. The teacher looked at me in amazement and said, "How did they know that?" Of course, I looked at her and told her about the power of sign. In reality, I was just as amazed as she was!
I have students who have difficulty producing complete sentences. Signing is perfect to use as a visual cue to the words that they should include. These are students who aren't reading and don't understand what a printed word is. It's just very natural to use signs.
Basic concepts is another target that is perfect for signs. Think about it: the signs for the concepts are exactly what the word is. For example: for "on", you simply place 1 hand on the other. For "under', you have one hand palm down, and take the other hand (in the "thumbs up" position) under it. It's that simple.
If you don't know sign language, there are different ways to learn the basics:
 Take a class. Check your local community college, or better yet, see if the teacher of the hearing impaired in your district would be interested in teaching a class for educators.
 Get a book. Seriously. There are books out there that will give detailed descriptions (and pictures) of how to sign words.
 The internet. That should go without saying. Google "how to sign ____" and you'll get a gazillion suggestions. There are even videos that show you exactly how to sign the word you need.
If you use signs in your therapy room, how do you use them? Do you see the benefits in using signs as visual cues?
If you don't know how to even the basic signs, what are you waiting for?


  1. Great post! I agree that sign sometimes help kids find that elusive word or learn a basic concept. I definitely keep use of basic signs in my bag of tricks!

  2. I'm sure you still have the book The Joy of Signing, too? I still have mine!

  3. Agreed! Total communication works beautifully. Sign is a fantastic visual support and the movement helps connect meaning for many of my kiddos!


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