Sign Language and Special needs

Yes, sign language can dramatically help a child with special needs with his/her language development and communication skills. I have seen this in process and it works.

I help teach at a special needs inclusion school and I have used sign language on numerous occasions to help build those students with weak or no verbal skills. Sign language is the only resource for those who cannot speak or have troubles vocalizing.

For example, last year, I was placed with a student with severe Downs syndrome (for the sake of his privacy, his name will be Henry for this article.) Henry’s down syndrome was so severe in fact, that he did absolutely no vocalizations (that is, unless you count his adorable deep laughing). At first I didn’t believe, no vocalization at all?

I think I even tried to scare him a bit once, even though he jumped, no sound came out of his mouth; no “oh!” of surprise or “Ah!” of fear. Nothing. Just a a brief aside, Henry is not deaf, his hearing has been tested and he has normal hearing capabilities, so that does not explain his lack of vocalization).

Well, how is Henry supposed to communicate with the rest of the world if he can’t talk or make any sounds of any kind? Sign language saved Henry from a mute life. Slowly over the year, myself and my fellow co-workers began to teach Henry sign language.

At first it was only the necessities like restroom, eat, and happy. Even having the opportunity to express that he needed to use the restroom, or that he was happy and excited about something was like taking a shutter off a camera. For years his life was black, only listening but never able to respond; but now, Henry’s world has color and light, as he can better express his emotions and wants.

I no longer work with Henry, as I have been placed onto another student, but I see him around campus everyday. Now Henry can not only tell me he’s happy, but he can also sign me his name and what food he is eating for snack.

I know that this sounds like making a mountain out of a mole hill, but those of you who have a non-verbal special needs son or daughter can relate directly with Henry’s story of success.

Sign language works! It is the only link of communication for those students, teenagers, and adults who cannot verbalize their feelings, wants, or needs. Henry’s story is true, and so are thousands of other special need’s stories of hope and communication. Sign language worked for Henry. It can work for anyone.