Autism and sign language - how will it benefit my child?

Autism and sign language are a good fit as children with autism have strong visual skills. We all use gestures when we are talking. We wave hello and goodbye, hold up our index finger when we say no, and beckon people to us when we call them verbally.Key word signing is an extension of natural gesture.

Autism and sign language - helping your child to understand

When using keyword signing we always use language and signing together. Your child hears the words (auditory input) and sees the signs (visual input) together, which gives them much more information than words alone.

When we talk the sound is gone in a second, but the signs last longer which is of great benefit to children with autism who take longer to process information. We also naturally slow down our speech and simplify what we are saying when we sign and talk together.

When using Makaton we always use normal grammatical sentences. we only sign the most important words in a sentence and use facial expression and body language to enhance what we are saying.

Autism and sign language - helping your child to express themselves

For children with autism signs are often easier to produce than language. This does not mean that if you use signing it will stop your child from talking. Rather it will give them opportunities to express themselves even if they don't yet have words. They will experience the benefits of communicating and may be more motivated to attempt speech.

Their initial attempts at speech may also be more successful. Your child's pronunciation might not be very clear initially but if they are using sign language with speech you are more likely to understand and give them the response they are looking for. This will motivate them to continue to attempt speech.

Your child may also be less frustrated as they have a way to get their needs met without screaming and crying until you figure out what they need.

Not every child with autism learns to speak. If your child is one of those who does not develop speech, then they will have another useful tool to allow them to communicate with those in their world.

How do I learn Makaton?

Your autism speech therapist will assess your child's communication level and help you to work out how best to use Makaton or keyword signing to enhance your child' communication. They will be able to teach you some signs. You can attend training workshops which will teach you how to use Makaton with your child.

You can buy books that contain the Makaton vocabulary. There is also a CD ROM which shows a person doing each sign. This is often easier to learn from than the book. Please note that the signs used in Makaton are borrowed from the language of the deaf community. In Australia this language is called Auslan. It is therefore important that you buy any resources locally to ensure that you are using the appropriate signs. If you live in Australia and want to buy resources click here to go to the makaton website

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