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visual learner American Sign LanguageSpecial needs children with autism, Down’s Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, speech impairments and more, have seen tremendous gains when they are taught to use sign language. American Sign Language (ASL) can help these children to communicate better, learn new words and school curriculum easier and faster, and express their feelings in a more positive way.

ASL and Visual Learners
Many special needs children learn best visually. They need to see what a word is, or have a visual representation of it, in order for the word to make sense.

For example, if I say to you, “picture a lemon”, you can picture in your mind a yellow, oval fruit. On the other hand, if I say to you, “picture the word ‘the'”, there is no picture for you to make.

This makes learning these kinds of word exceptionally difficult for visual learners. Because ASL signs are iconic in nature, meaning that many of the words look like the actual objects they refer to, signing can offer a huge advantage to the visual learner.

For example, to sign the word house, you take your flat hands and show the roof and the walls, actually drawing a house in front of you.

This doesn’t work for every word, but for the many words that it does work for, it can really help children to learn and remember new words.

Tips for Improving Communication with ASL
To improve your child’s communication with sign language, start with the words you need them to say the most. Say and sign the word together, use your dominant hand, stay positive and keep it fun. Note:

  • Your child will understand and respond to signs first, before they start signing back to you–which may take a few months.
  • When your child does start signing, they may not make the sign exactly how you are making it. Sign approximations are okay.
  • Use eye contact as much as possible, though this is often difficult with some special needs.
  • Don’t wait for your children to start signing back to you before introducing more signs.  Children learn to recognize signs faster, before they actually start using them.

Improving Academics with ASL
To improve your child’s academic work with sign language, use sign language in collaboration with new alphabet letters, new content area vocabulary words and new sight words. Always remember to say and sign the word together.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1932354050″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”121″][easyazon-link asin=”1932354050″ locale=”us”]Sign2Me – ASL Flashcards: Beginners Series Flashcards[/easyazon-link] can be very helpful with teaching children to learn their sight words.  Each card has a colorful illustration on one side, while the reverse side teaches users how to make the associated sign. Each card contains the ASL illustration for the sign along with the English and Spanish words and phonetic pronunciations. Your child will benefit from seeing the word and the sign together.  They can practice saying and signing, seeing the word and hearing you say it, as well as seeing you create the sign for the word. This multisensory approach is very, very helpful for the special needs child. 

Other Ways ASL Can Help
To improve your child’s behavior with sign language, use signs like “stop” and “look” to re-direct. Be sure to use some positive signs to praise them when you catch them doing wonderful things (like “great” or “applause”).

Sign language can really be helpful with showing children how to express their feelings in a more positive way. Instead of using their bodies aggressively toward someone else, they can use their bodies to show the signs that communicate how they feel. Children can sign “angry” or “mad” or “my turn” using their hands and bodies to show their frustration. When children learn to use these signs when they are upset, they tend to be less aggressive towards others.