You might have heard of Sing and Sign classes for babies and toddlers, which has been promoted as ‘helping babies communicate before speech’. It helps babies to recognise words by reinforcing meaning with gesture, and gives them an alternative communication tool while they are learning to speak. It also stops those little frustrations when they don’t have the language to express themselves verbally. For children with language delay, signing systems are encouraged by Speech and Language Therapists and medical professionals as these could be your child’s way of communicating for longer than a typically-developing child.
We have been signing with Trudy from about 4 months old and for the first year, it was unclear how she was responding to this. However, it was worth the wait as Trudy watches our hands as she listens to the word and tries to copy us. We always know that she is trying to communicate because she makes obvious gestures. Some are clearer than others: She knows the essentials like eating, drinking, more, finished, mummy, daddy and, of course, brother Patrick. It is wonderful when she makes a clear sign that gives her what she wants. She is so pleased!
There are two signing systems in the UK: Signalong and Makaton. Makaton is used on Mr Tumble on CBeebies and there is access to signing workshops or classes through Singing Hands and the two charities mentioned above, amongst others. You can also request training through your Speech and Language Therapist.
It is great that these systems of communication are being promoted for all children as they can benefit everyone! They are based on British Sign Language which is used by people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Some people also believe that signing improves sensory-motor function in the brain.*
Speech and Language Therapy
We were referred to a Speech and Language Therapist when Trudy began weaning and the therapist we saw specialised in this. She gave us some top tips about encouraging Trudy to move her jaw when she eats to simulate chewing. We would stroke her cheeks to stimulate movement and give her lots of opportunities to eat solid food. We were then invited to regular Signalong sessions where I learned basic signs for themes such as animals or the farm. I found these useful ultimately but not particularly relevant at the time. We quickly realised that we needed signs for everyday words related to Trudy’s routine like nappy, bed, food etc. We found these out from our Visiting Teacher who came from Edinburgh’s ASL (Additional Support for Learning) service. These were shared with Trudy’s nursery and we were then reinforcing the meaning with the sign across both settings.
I went to a few talks at the World Down Syndrome Congress about Speech and Language Therapy and there was much discussion around the frequency of sessions. This seems to vary from country to country but there are clear pathways in the UK and the general approach seems to be towards empowering parents to communicate and interact with their children as much as possible. We were signposted to the Hanen course, which is free for parents in Scotland. I got the book “It Takes Two to Talk“, which focuses on some key principles:
- Let your child lead (see “intensive interaction”)
- Learn how they communicate
- Make time to play
- Use familiar routines
- Add language to interactions
This is a great book for parents as it goes through these principles clearly and without jargon. The DVD demonstrates these interactions between parents and their children.