Over the past year or so, many have asked about using the Signing Smart program with children on the autism spectrum. My answer has always been that I didn't have the research to back me up, but what I knew about each of those subjects would lead me to believe that using American Sign Language with children on the autism spectrum who are struggling with lack of language would be a great benefit. Recently, I have had the opportunity to do a bit of research on this topic, and I'm happy to say that, not only were our gut reactions correct, I now have some research to support that!
In may ways, though, the findings I will share with you apply not only to children on the autism spectrum. Children with a delay in language for any reason can absolutely benefit from using American Sign Language and the tools and strategies offered by Signing Smart - even after the age of 2.
Many children who fall into this group may be labeled "non-verbal," however, they are far from silent! While unable to communicate successfully, a child may still be able to produce consonant and vowel sounds or even syllables consisting of multiple letter sounds. (Kauffman, N., Shaping Verbal Language for Children on the Spectrum of Autism Who Also Exhibit Apraxia of Speech) Using American Sign Language via Signing Smart's techniques as a means of early communication and language exposure while simultaneously working on other speech development activities could lead to astounding results!
Just like with hearing infants and toddlers, research has found that American Sign Language can actually speed the acquisition of spoken language. Also, just like hearing infants and toddlers, the successful communication afforded by ASL can help to reduce frustration and can "serve the purpose of functionally replacing other disruptive behaviors such as aggression, self-injurious behavior, and tantrumming" (Helwig, C. Autism and ASL)
Other researchers have found that using American Sign Language also provides additional benefits to children on the autism spectrum. One such area might be improved attentiveness to social gestures both those being used by the child as well as interpreting those seen from others. (Edleson, S., Signed Speech or Simultaneous Communication) Other benefits relate to the manual nature of ASL and the idea that parents/caregivers/teachers can physically help the child form a sign as part of the learning process, unlike spoken language. Because of this, children with a wide variety of functional abilities can successfully use sign language as part of their communication.
Whether your goals are focused on developing spoken language or an alternative means of communication, American Sign Language and the Signing Smart tools and strategies can help you get there!
Ready to get started? Contact me to arrange your private, small or large group class! SigningWithMissSteph@Gmail.com
Helwig, C. (2008) Autism and ASL from http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/topics/autism.htm
Kauffman, N. (n.d.) Shaping Verbal Language for Children on the Spectrum of Autism Who Also Exhibit Apraxia of Speech from http://www.apraxia-kids.org/library/shaping-verbal-language-for-children-on-the-spectrum-of-autism-who-also-exhibit-apraxia-of-speech/