Key Word Sign

How does sign help your child to talk? 

Speech Pathologists often introduce Key Word Sign to children to help them to develop early speech and language. You might be wondering what Key Word Sign is? Key Word is a communication system that uses sign and gesture to express key words or core vocabulary.  Each key word in a sentence is matched to a hand sign. It can be confusing for caregivers to understand how using your hands helps you learn how to talk! 

Children naturally use gestures before they learn to say words; they point, wave ‘bye’ and put their hands up when they want to be picked up.  Children begin to replace gestures (or signs) with speech as their oral motor skills develop.  It is developmentally easier to use your hands than to coordinate the 72 muscles of your jaw, lips, teeth, tongue and breathing for speech. Signing also helps to take the pressure off talking, and you’ll often find that once your child has an effective way to communicate, they can then focus on learning specific speech sounds and words. There is no evidence that teaching a child to sign will delay their verbal communication development. 

Introducing Key Word Sign helps to: 

  • Expand children’s communication skills 
  • Help them to get their message across
  • Reduce frustration caused by communication breakdowns 
  • Assist their understanding of language by drawing their attention to the important words 
  • Help their language and speech development 

Some tips for using this approach:

  • Focus on using one sign regularly each week and it will become easy and natural 
  • Your child will not use the signs straight away, it takes months of a child hearing a word over and over again from lots of different people before they try to say it … the same is true for signs.  
  • Get the whole family involved – the more people that use Key Word Sign around your child, the more opportunity and practice for the child. 

Contact South Coast Speech Pathology if you’d like to learn more about how Key Word Sign can help your child to communicate.