Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Teaching Tuesday: Signing and Language Development in Down syndrome (31 for 21, Day 9)

Most people are aware of sign language in the context of a tool for deaf people to communicate.  In recent years, there has been a trend to teach typical children a few signs before speech develops in order to (hopefully) make communication easier.  What many don't know is that sign language is a very important tool for children and people with Down syndrome as well.

Not only are children who have failed to develop oral language (non-verbal) benefited from this instruction, but teaching all children with DS sign language can enrich them in many ways.  Sign language:

  • Provides either temporary or permanent alternative to speech
  • Can help reduce frustration
  • Can help reduce challenging behaviour
  • Facilitates interaction
  • Increases speech development
  • Increases overall language comprehension, interaction, reading and writing
  • Requires no special equipment
  • Uses normal communication patterns (ie:  taking turns, eye contact)
  • Utilizes normal grammar formation and sentence structure

Strategies to facilitate sign language acquisition (in regards to Down syndrome) include employing methods that allow the children to perceive the sign while not interrupting their attention.  This is encouraged rather than attempting to manipulate the child's attention.  Examples include displacing signs from their proper points on the body and introducing them into the child's visual field.  With signs that involve the face, displace them to the child's face.  Once the child can rapidly divert attention from their activity and quickly return back to what they are doing, signs can be reintroduced with their proper placement. 


Caselli, M. C., S. Vicari, E. Longobardi, L. Lami, C. Pizzoli, and G. Stella. "Gestures And Words In Early Development Of Children With Down Syndrome." Journal Of Speech, Language, And Hearing Research 41 (1998): 1125-135.
Clibbens J. Signing and Lexical Development in Children with Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 2001;7(3);101-105.

Kouri, Theresa. "How Manual Sign Acquisition Relates to the Development of Spoken Language: A Case Study." Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 20.1 (1989): 50-62.

Launonen, Kaisa. "The Effects of Early Intervention on the Language and Communication Skills of Children with Down Syndrome." Lisbon CPLOL Congress (1997): 2-4.
Mundy, P., C. Kasari, M. Sigman, and E. Ruskin. "Nonverbal Communication and Early Language Acquisition in Children with Down Syndrome and Normally Developing Children." Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 31.1 (1995): 157-67
Woll, Bernice, and Nicola Grove. "On Language Deficits and Modality in Children with Down Syndrome: A Case Study of Twins Bilingual in BSL and English." Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 1.4 (1996): 271-78.

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  1. Officially, we're using signs to pull together all of the different languages that are a part of the Babe's everyday life.
    Unofficially, she really loves Signing Times videos and I can get some laundry done (by which I mean Facebooking) while she's entertained, and we really should be much better about consistently employing the signs. I did not know that I could temporarily displace them tho', which will make it a little easier with signs like mom and dad for example. Thanks for that!

    1. You are welcome! I found that tidbit helpful as well. The babe is going to be super blessed with all the language around her!


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