Communication Series – Where to start with sign language?

Where to start with sign language?

bsl

Now this can be a tricky one because you will have very differing replies based upon who you ask. One good example of this is the topic of teaching “more” (BSL and ASL).

Now “more” can be a brilliant word, because it can be transferred and easily generalised across different environments and settings. Once mastered across multiple settings children can ask to continue or receive more of activities, food, drinks, social games and so on. So what’s the opposing view? Well some viewpoints argue that if you teach a child the word “more” then they don’t need to go to the trouble of learning individual words because they can just sign “more” for everything. Simply put, because “more” is so flexible, it takes away the need to learn more signing.

I suppose what you think of this and ultimately what you decide to do will depend on your own student. I have worked with one young man who over time developed a communication system that combined BSL and PECS, if he wanted more of something he would sign “more” then hand me the PECS card. The thing with signing is that it can be a very difficult fine motor activity – but the signs for “more” in both ASL and BSL are fairly straightforward and manageable.

I don’t think starting with “more” is a bad thing for a number of reasons: firstly it is providing immediate and useful communication for a person who may have previously been unable to communicate at all, secondly there are ways to expand the signing vocabulary to ensure they do not get stuck on “more” forever. One good one to combine with “more” is “finished” (BSL and ASL). With these two signs you equip your student with the means to continue something or to end it, and therefore provide them a degree of control within activities. Additionally, whilst “more” works to continue with activities that have already begun, it can’t be used very well to request, therefore you can easily create situation in the future where you can teach new signs to your student.

The teacher in this situation knows that the student uses the sign “more” when he wants a biscuit (BSL for biscuit and ASL for cookie).

Student: signs for “more”

Teacher: More? I’m not sure what you mean, do you want “more biscuit” (shows item and then signs) or “more drink” (shows item and signs).

For example, if the student then pointed to the biscuit and signed more than you can show them the sign again, or help them to make the sign and quickly provide the biscuit.

Whether you decide to start with “more” or decide to start with specific words is up to you and your own knowledge of the student. Either way, make sure you start to introduce the sign you are working on into your day to day speech so that your student is getting used to seeing it in context, and you are providing an additional visual support for speech.


Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.

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