Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘How Gestures and Signs Can Lead to Words’

NSTT-300x197[1]Melissa Travis, Speech Therapist at Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article – “How Gestures and Signs Can Lead to Words.”

I have sat in many a meeting with parents of a toddler trying to develop a plan of action for their little munchkin, so that they can start to use words. So, as a Speech Language Pathologist, I often recommend using some simple sign language and gestures as a means to promote and guide verbalizations. I am frequently met with the “Deer in the Headlights Look” and/or “My child is not deaf!” exclamation. From there, I gently explain what I am going to explain to readers here.

Signing and gesturing is a natural means of non-verbal communication. If used properly, it can lower frustration for not only your child but for you! It can act as a bridge; going from non-verbal to verbal. Think about it – when you want someone to get something across the room from where you are sitting, you most likely use your words and point in the general direction of your requested item. We all wave hello and goodbye on a regular basis as well. This is gesturing!

Typically, you want to start out with some easy simple nouns that have great meaning behind it. For instance, food items work well because most toddlers love to eat, so food is highly motivating. Some of my favorites are cookie, milk, juice, and French fries. I begin by showing the parent how to use the sign, and practice it with them. Then, I show the child the sign and use my hand on their hand to help the child perform the sign. Then, the parent and I work together with the child by using the actual food item to promote the usage of the sign. By this I mean if the child uses the sign and/or an approximation of it, the child gets a bite of the food.

The parent is told to ALWAYS say the food word while signing it. Sometimes the child uses the sign within an hour, and sometimes this can take weeks of practice. Regardless, by the time the kiddo is using the sign he /she is less frustrated and so is the parent, because a line of communication has been created! Once this is accomplished and the child is consistently using the sign because the parent ALWAYS used the signed paired with the verbal word the child will eventually drop the sign and just use the word. Once a few noun type words have been established and consistently used, the family can use this same technique with more words and more words until well their kiddo is a talking machine and the parents are secretly wishing their child came with a mute button 😉

There are a few things to keep in mind when going this route to promote language.

1. You do not always have to start with food words. Use words that are highly motivating to the child (animals, body parts, types of clothing).

2. Not every child prefers this method. So if you choose to try this strategy stick with it for approximately 1-3 months. If your kiddo had no other residual factors and is not signing, try a different method, like Picture Exchange, or other play therapy based strategies. This is just not for him, and that is OKAY!

3. This is not a perfect method and will require dedication and much effort on the caregivers end. Carry through must exist to accomplish success! Remember parents are their child’s first teacher!

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