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ASL and the special needs child

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American Sign Language (ASL) is not only beneficial for individuals who are hearing impaired, but for children with a variety of special needs as well. This includes autism, cerebral palsy, speech and other learning delays.

According to research, babies develop the skills to sign before they develop the skills to verbalize.

Sign language gives children who are unable to vocalize a way to communicate their needs, wants and thoughts with others. This is especially helpful for children with special needs who may struggle with language and speech. Signing gives them the ability to express themselves, and reducing frustrations of not being able to communicate.

While it may be thought that sign language delays vocalization, research shows otherwise. Children who are taught to sign are said to speak earlier, have higher self-esteem and have broader vocabularies. Signing helps the brain to make connections between visual and auditory input. Sign language doesn't necessarily inhibit speech, it works to help develop it!

You can introduce signing to your child as soon as possible. Introduce a few signs at a time and show/vocalize the word you are signing at the appropriate times and places. Repeating this is key in helping children to make the connection between the word or action and the sign.

The first signs you introduce are generally words that are all a part of your child's daily life. Some common first signing words include: "mom", "dad", "milk", "eat", "more" and "all done". You can start out with a few words and add more as your child understands and begins to use the signs they have learned.

American Sign Language opens up a door for children who are unable to use vocalized speech. It creates a means for communication, further development and a more independent child.

The benefits of sign language are for everyone. Every child and adult can be touched by this beautiful and barrier-breaking language.

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