Can Sign Language Help a Hearing Child Who Has a Speech Delay?

United States
July 24, 2009 8:55am CST
A little boy, 23 months old has a speech delay despite the fact that he is obviously intelligent and has no neurological or hearing impairment. He is not autistic, nor delayed in any other manner, he is sociable and active, and a very fast learner who is physically advanced for his age, but he just doesn't talk, or even really babble much and gets very frustrated because he can't express his wants and needs clearly. He goes to therapy for due to the speech delay and also because he has some food issues. The therapist recommended that the family learn baby sign language to help him have a means to communicate while he is not yet speaking verbally. The therapist says that the same part of the brain which controls the mouth also controls the hands (that's why women open their mouths when applying mascara and people often stick their tongue out while trying to thread a needle) and that learning sign language may actually HELP him to develop verbal speech! Are there any parents here who've used sign language to help a hearing child with a speech delay? Was it hard for YOU to learn? Did you find it helpful? I am aware of BABY sign language, they say you can start as early as six months, is 23 months then too late to start? Do you have any suggestions on how to begin or any advice as to what may be the easiest way to learn it and teach it to the child? If a person has limited use of their right hand, can they sign with the left hand instead, and will the words still have the same meaning?
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6 responses
@dawnald (84147)
• Shingle Springs, California
24 Jul 09
My son has autism and although he doesn't specifically have this problem, I have read that working on all the the senses can help with speech. So I would think this would be a great idea, even for a child without autism. Actually I'm reading something for older people which says that if you use all your senses, do things differently, it can help your brain develop new connections that can help with memory and many other things.
2 people like this
• United States
24 Jul 09
Alzheimer's runs in my family, so it's probably a GOOD idea for me to learn sign language then!
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@dawnald (84147)
• Shingle Springs, California
24 Jul 09
Actually there are a lot of things you can do to work your brain, things like: writing with your non-dominant hand attaching smells to experiences (such as smell vanilla while listening to music) taking a different route to work doing some of your normal things with your eyes closed there were lots more things, but that's all I can remember right this second.
1 person likes this
• United States
24 Jul 09
I was already forced by life to learn to write and do almost everything with my non-dominant hand, since an injury and subsequent nerve disorder has robbed me of much of the use of my right hand. I like to do crossword puzzles, those are supposed to help as well.
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@Riptide (2761)
• United States
24 Jul 09
We have a lady at work, who's nephews kid has a speech delay. He is 2 years old and he is learning baby sign language as well and it seems to help him a great deal. He is actualy very proud of the fact that he can do something the other kids can't. Maybe this site will help you a little. http://babystrology.com/baby-learning/baby-sign-language/ This one has some information you might find helpful. https://www.babysigns.com/
2 people like this
• United States
25 Jul 09
Thanks for the links, and the support.
@thea09 (18324)
• Greece
24 Jul 09
Hi angrykitty, I heard about using sign language to help a non speaking baby to communicate when my son was a tot. The idea was they could tell us when they were hungry, wanted picking up etc. I don't think that leaving it to 23 months is too late as infants are amazingly fast learners. I never used this method myself but believe from what I read that it was very simple, not the same way as learning actual sign language for the deaf. I am sure you would be able to teach it yourself,your baby can understand you so show him how to tell you when he wants food by rubbing his tummy and just work it up from there. If you work up your own sign language between you it should be really simple and you'll both understand it, I wouldn't pay some therapist to show you both as you can make your own up based on common sense. Hope that helps.
• United States
24 Jul 09
He sees a therapist because he'd stopped letting me give him ANY food, not being picky, just REFUSING TO EAT AT ALL, along with the speech delay. I got a book on signing for babies on my own, complete with DVD, hopefully I can help him with this. It's better to use a standard form of sign language (ASL American Sign Language in my case) instead of just making something up so other people can learn to understand him as well and there is a wider lexicon of already existing signs for things than any made up language I could ever come up with. In therapy we're mostly focused on getting him to eat, since eating help develop the muscles in the mouth necessary for speech and also for the obvious reason that it's dangerous to have a baby who eats nothing. We've been making progress by the way.
@thea09 (18324)
• Greece
24 Jul 09
Hi again, i didn't realise that when you said he had food issues that he wouldn't eat anything at all,that is really worrying. I do hope you sort out the eating issue soon, good luck.
1 person likes this
• United States
24 Jul 09
We've been making slow, steady progress on his food issue. It was very disturbing and it took a long time to get the doctors to take my concerns seriously, but he's finally getting the help he needs and I'm learning new tools to help him.
@wiccania (3360)
• United States
25 Jul 09
Sign language does help a child with a speech delay, whether Autistic or not. I know several people who have used it with children who are considered otherwise normal and I used it with my Autistic son (who is speech delayed) with excellent results. Sign language isn't difficult to learn, especially if you're only learning baby sign language -- which tends to focus more on single words than on sentences and phrases, as far as I can tell. There are several good dvds out there that you can watch with your child that will teach both of you various signs. I wish I could remember the names of the first two dvds I bought for my son. I know they both showed the signs being done along with verbal and visual reinforcement of what the signs meant. One of them included signs like mommy, daddy, please, thank you, sleep, sorry, etc. People who are left handed, like myself, actually sign with their left hand. It doesn't matter or change the meaning of the sign. So a person having limited use of the right hand would have no trouble signing left handed. I actually studied sign language in high school and was taught that if you're left handed you use your left hand as the primary signing hand and your right hand is the secondary hand (some signs require use of both hands). It's definitely worth trying. If sign language doesn't work, I would recommend trying PECS (picture exchange) for communication. That would at least give the child the ability to communicate his wants and needs to the people around him, and that can always be reinforced verbally. My son went from signing some items to showing me pictures of things he wanted to actually saying "I want...(whatever it was he wanted)." Now we're up to "May I have..." or "May I please have..."
• United States
25 Jul 09
Thank you so much for your post, it is very helpful! You have put my mind at ease about the left hand thing, since I have limited use of my right hand. I've got a book that came with a DVD, the book I have has a few chapters about all the stuff the author thinks I should know before starting, so I'm reading that but soon we'll start using the signs. My daughter (4 years old) taught me the sign for "sleep" so I've been doing that one when I put him to bed. She must have learned it from TV, she showed it to me when I explained what the book was for and how we would try to help her brother and she showed me the sign she knew, and when I looked it up, she was right! I think she's gonna be a big asset to us, she remembers EVERYTHING and is interested in signing and loves to help her brother.
@sacmom (14315)
• United States
31 Jul 09
Hi AngryKitty, I think it can. Sign language has helped my family some. I mainly got into it for my oldest son's sake, due to him being autistic and non-verbal (at the time). I bought some videos a few years ago through Signing Time after reading reviews about it from others on another site. I was skeptical to say the least, but was willing to give it a shot, so I started with one video. To my amazement, both of my kids took to it quickly. So I bought a few more throughout several months time. I have to say, it is pretty easy to learn. And you can use either hand. However, I'm pretty sure with some words, like 'play', it requires both, though there might be a way around it, like spelling the word out if it is short enough (4 letters and under), instead. My kids have since gotten tired of the videos, so I've given up on it...for now. Oh and it's never too late to start. My oldest son was 8 when he started and my youngest was 5. Which makes me about 30 when I started. So as you can see anyone at any age can learn. I hope this helped. Good luck!
1 person likes this
• Philippines
25 Jul 09
In other way, sign language can help but lets not forget that this child is not born deaf.He/She has only speech delay.As a parent,your responsibility is to help your child grow normal.
• United States
25 Jul 09
My responsibility as a parent is to help my child any way I can; if teaching him sign language helps to lessen his frustration and gives him tools to communicate while he is still unable to talk, then I am doing right by him to learn it and teach it. It has been proven that sign language in a hearing child can HELP him to develop verbal speech faster, so it will assist him in getting past the delay. He's MY kid, I am with him every day, why would you think I don't know that he's not deaf? What exactly to you mean by "normal"? Not being able to communicate your wants and needs would be a huge obstacle to "normalcy" and to deny him a chance to be able to communicate would be irresponsible. What is the point of your post exactly, did you intend to sound obnoxious, self righteous, and ignorant or was that accidental? I don't need YOU to tell me what MY responsibility is as a parent. My responsibility as a parent is to take care of my child and help him in any way I can to navigate his world.
@Riptide (2761)
• United States
25 Jul 09
There is nothing abnormal about sign language. I wish I knew sign language! This can only benefit the child and I think if more children would learn sign language, then that would help their motor skills as well. Learning sign language is no different then learning any other language. After all, it is a language and that child will be considered bilingual before he even hits the elementary school! He is a very smart boy, he has to be, coming from a smart mommy. Kitty is an awesome mom and if more moms were like her, then this world would be a better place so I don't think she needs to be reminded what her responsibilites are since she fulfills them better than a lot of people can say for themselves! If more moms were as vigilant and protective as she is, kidnappers and child molesters wouldn't have a chance in this world!
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