Should I teach my baby Sign Language

The short answer to the first question here is ‘No’…Sign Language is not something we SHOULD be teaching our babies or young toddlers.  The long answer is a tad more complex.  Using natural gestures to accompany what you say when communicating with your child WILL help him or her to understand language more readily.  Modelling such gestures may also assist your little one to start communicating earlier than if you only modelled spoken words.

For those children who are late to acquire spoken language, the use of more of these natural gestures and sometimes the introduction Key Word Sign can be of enormous benefit.

What is Key Word Sign?

Key Word Sign adds signs to spoken english.  In Australia, we use signs from the Deaf community’s sign language called Auslan.   Key Word Sign can be used to support children to understand language and can also help them to get their message across to others more successfully.  We say the full sentence and sign just the key words using Auslan signs

What is Makaton

Key Word Sign was formerly known a Makaton.  Sometimes these terms are still interchanged in our community but it is important to know that if you are teaching Key Word Sign to children in Australia, that you draw upon the signs of Auslan.  Makaton was originally derived from British Sign Language so it can be very easy to get confused. The last thing we want is for Speech Pathologists, Parents/Carers and Educators teaching different signs for the same word.  To keep consistent, it is best to keep the lines of communication open so that all working the child know which signs are being taught and that we borrow the signs from Auslan.

What Signs should I Teach my Child?

The answer to this one is pretty clear…whichever signs your child needs in order to communicate effectively with others.  So often I see ‘finished’ and ‘toilet’ as the only signs being targeted.  How functional are these are words we need to communicate to others?  Sure…we need to understand them but if we are wanting to teach our children signs to communicate with others, there are far more useful words to start with.  We will often recommend ‘Core’ words.  These are words that can be used across various situations with different people.  How often do you need to use ‘colour’ words when communicating to others versus a Core word such as WANT, MORE, GO, NO, LOOK, GET, COME, and HELP?  Sit down with your child’s team and look at the reasons why your child is communicating and how?  Where are the gaps?  What might be causing frustration?  Could you perhaps teach a simple sign for those moments?

How Do I Teach Key Word Signs?

Always Say and Sign simultaneously.  Slow your speech rate down.  Get face to face with your child to maximise […]


Personal Communication Dictionaries

Does your child or a child you work with communicate using unconventional gestures that are sometimes missed or misunderstood by others?

It may be challenging at times for others to understand your child’s emotional state, wants, needs and ideas especially if your child is nonverbal or if your child has a complex communication difficulty.

When we don’t respond appropriately or accidentally ignore a child’s communication signal, communication can breakdown and development can stall.

Creating a Personal Communication Dictionary for your child can help others to recognise your child’s efforts to communicate and reinforce these in positive ways.

A Personal Communication Dictionary is a document with information about the individual ways that your child communicates.

It details what your child does, what this might mean and how the communication partner can respond to the communication behaviour seen.

Why are Personal Communication Dictionaries Needed?

These documents can be incredibly helpful for communication partners as well as for your child.  Partners can get to know your child, recognise communication behaviours and interpret these communication attempts appropriately.  This helps back and forth interaction to grow.  When children have their emotional states, needs/wants and ideas understood by others, communication continues to grow.

Personal Communication Dictionaries can be compiled by Parents and/or Speech Pathologists and distributed to all other adults who spend time with your child.  Your child’s gestures, body language, facial expressions, vocalisations and signs can even be photographed and included in the dictionary.

A mix of text, photos and pictures can create a beautiful, authentic document all about your child and how your child communicates.

How to get started…

Head to and download your free template.

Start to write down in as much detail what your child does…any little idiosyncratic behaviour, sound, gesture or action your child makes to communicate.

Does your child jump up and down and flap his or her hands?

Does your child take you by the hand and drag you to the front door?

Perhaps your child likes to engage in repetitive humming when playing by him or herself?

Once you have detailed all of the behaviours, you can then match these behaviours to an interpretation of what your child may mean when he or she engages in each behaviour.

The final column can be used to explain to your child’s communication partners HOW they can respond in a way that will help your child.

Here is a quick example:

What I do

I place the palm of my hand on my chest and pat my chest repeatedly

What this might mean

I am learning the Key Word Sign for ‘more’.  When I use this gesture, I am communicating to you that I want more of the item, food or drink or I want you to do more of the action you are doing e.g. I often use this gesture if you are chasing me or tickling me and I want you to continue.

What you can do

Please acknowledge my attempts to request more.  Say ‘More!’ and model for me the Key Word Sign as you […]



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