Tips to Using Sign Language with Your Autistic Child: Making Life a Little Easier with Sign
Parents, I get it. You NEED a solution for when your non-verbal autistic child becomes frustrated resulting in a meltdown. As parents, we have to find ways to bring peace to the chaos. Sign language is an amazing tool to meet both your need as a parent and your child’s need to express themselves.
Here are 5 tips parents and other helpers have shared. These ideas have been effective for both hearing and non-hearing children.
Only learn the specific signs you need
One mother said, “I only teach my son two signs at a time. So far, we are up to fifteen.”
You don’t need to become proficient in another language to see results. Learning just a few signs can make a difference. Start simple with only one or two. Use flash cards or a wall chart to introduce and reinforce the signs you are currently practicing. (I’ve included a link to a free set of printable flash cards at the end of this article.)
Chasity’s Common Signs
Child favorites: “Help, more, please, milk, movie, eat, open, play, TV, all done”
Parent favorites: “Thank you, please, stop, no/yes, wash, want, bed, change, I love you”
1.Start with signs that align with your child’s needs
“We use sign language, but he only signs back what is useful to him, like ‘More snacks.’ LOL,” says a mother of autistic child.
Focus on the signs that might immediately increase positive interaction. Start with signs for EAT and MORE. You might consider “labeling,” taping flashcards on objects related to the signs you are working on. Success comes more quickly by beginning with signs that immediately benefit the child.
2.Be consistent by both speaking and signing key words.
“Consistency–always saying the word with the sign was a game changer. My son was relieved when he could finally tell us what he wanted.”
Sign language is simple to practice consistently because there is no device to pull out, or app to launch. All you need is your voice and hands. Since you probably already use your voice to communicate, simply add the one sign that supports your words. For instance, while asking “Do you want to eat?”, sign the word “EAT.” No need to sign the full sentence. Just key word(s) like “WANT” and “EAT” will do.
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3.Use signing to support other learning methods and aims
“When I taught the sign “EAT,” she would lower her head but shift her eyes to watch me. Using sign helped her build confidence to begin glancing up at people,” relays Cindy, a caregiver.
You may have PECS, augmentative device, or story boards. That’s great! Add sign language to the tools you already use. Signing facilitates all communication, builds language concepts, and can reduce frustration and resulting behavior problems. It offers children a mode to communicate their wants and needs without external technology. ASL is also a “visual” language, as Liz attests, “Some autistic individuals struggle with eye contact but find it easier to look at others while communicating through sign.”
Mom and teacher testify, “Signing helped tremendously at home and in the classroom.”
There are many ways to take signing beyond the basics. Imagine your child in a classroom where the other students are using sign to communicate with your child, helping him/her feel part of class.
Cynthia, educator and mom of deaf autistic teen suggests, “Some schools form Sign Clubs to provide opportunities for all students to learn and practice.”
There are also sign language dictionaries and resources that you could access online. You might consider becoming involved with your local deaf community or joining an ASL Club with your child. These additional support systems build both communication and social skills.
Sign language can reduce common frustrations and meltdowns by giving your autistic child a way to communicate his/her needs more effectively. Ask yourself, “Am I ready to make life a little easier for myself?”
Benefit from the positive experience of parents and educators outlined above. Begin implementing these five tips today.
ASLTeachingResources.com has a free 26-week sign club that could be used in your local school.
There is a free podcast (not an app) to learn one sign a day entitled “ASL Word of the Day.”
ASLTeachingResources.com, Interviews with parents of autistic children, We Are Proud Autism Parents, Autism Discussion, Lesley Atwood CRCC/Autism Specialist
Free flash cards can be found @ http://aslteachingresources.com use code: FREEFC at check out.
This article was featured in Issue 102 – Supporting ASD Needs Everyday