Using Sign Language with an Autistic Child
In recent times a growing interest has been directed to teaching sign language to autistic children who have failed to develop speech. Sign language is a language which relies on movements of hands, arms or body and facial expressions in order to communicate. This is commonly used by deaf people or hard of hearing people. But it is also becoming popularly used by other sectors, especially hearing non verbal children who suffer from down syndrome, trauma, autism, cerebral palsy, brain disorders and speech disorders. More and more parents now rely on sign language as a mode of quick communication particularly with their children who suffer with short attention spans or limited language capabilities.
Autism is a brain development disorder which results in damage to social skills, language and behavior. This disorder causes restricted and repetitive behavior which can be identified during infancy or childhood years. Autism affects many parts of the brain and parents are able to notice signs in the first few years of their child’s life. One of the main questions arising with regard to an autistic child would be whether he/she is ever able to develop speech. According to recent research it is conveyed that with appropriate interventions there is a possibility that children with autism can learn to talk. There are several ways to help autistic children to talk. And the most popular way is to teach speech through the utilization of sign language.
Researchers suggest that the use of sign language increases the chances of autistic children learning the spoken language. In addition it also provides children with an alternative mode of communication. It is easy for parents or caregivers to learn sign language and utilize it while interacting with an autistic child. Also it is found that autistic children are able to learn signing successfully. Some reasons for this are that signs can be physically guided unlike speech, signs can be frozen in time in order for the child to process it, sign language is more iconic than speech, individual signs can be easily grasped and it is believed that signing is processed in the right hemisphere of the brain. Since research has shown there may be differential disturbance of left hemisphere brain functions in autistic children this might be another reason why signing is easier for them to learn.
Teaching sign language to the child would provide him/her with a way of expressing his/her needs in a manner which is more socially accepted and easily understood. Due to this the child would experience less frustration. Also an increase in social awareness and decrease in tantrums due to frustration will follow with the ability to communicate. Another more crucial advantage in teaching sign language is that it would lessen some of the learning problems that autistic children face. It is believed that through acquiring sign language early on, the child is able to build up cognitive structures which are the basis for later learning.
As a parent or caregiver, there are many benefits for you in utilizing sign language with an autistic child. You would be able to enjoy a more interactive experience with your child as well as decrease the anxiety you face when communicating. Also you would have a chance to experience a much closer bond with your child.