An in-depth look at the possible benefits of using manual sign systems such as Lámh
Benefits of signing: Communication
People generally do not communicate by spoken words alone. People communicate through facial expressions, body language, gestures, etc.
The total communication approach means that persons can choose their preferred modes or methods of communication, such as speech, sounds, sign, pictures, technology, etc.
When a person uses manual sign, the listener can have a better chance of understanding the message. In this way, the person has a successful experience of communicating. When you are understood you are delighted to realise you have been successful and are more likely to keep on trying! Thus there is a heightened willingness to try new words and say more.
When those communicating with the Lámh user use sign, it can help to slow their rate of speech. Slowing a little gives the person more time to understand and imitate.
Benefits of signing: Physical Attributes
In terms of the physical aspects and skills involved in signing, there are a number of areas to look at. For example, the use of signing encourages eye contact and attention to movements, needed for speech development.
The ability to gesture and to make signs comes earlier for many children than saying the corresponding word. For example, waving bye-bye, pushing items away or shaking head for 'no', or raising arms to be lifted up. Speech involves the complex coordination of muscles. It is often easier to recognise and make gestures with their hands that it is for them to make speech sounds at first. The same is true for many other people who use Lámh.
Family members or staff can help a child to make signs more easily with hand-over-hand assistance. This is not possible with speech.
Spoken language occurs very quickly. A word is said, and then it's 'gone'. One can often 'hold' at least part of a sign in place, so that a person who needs extra time can inspect and re-inspect the signal.
Benefits of signing: Developmental
Language is learned in the 'give and take' of conversations. Signing can provide a means of taking part in these conversational exchanges and a person can progress into the arena of learning language, reinforcing basic language concepts and participating in the goings on of others even though they are not yet ready to use speech. Using sign assists people to use language and develop vocabulary.
Signing by those with little or no speech/expressive language is important, as it involves symbolic communication, i.e. the use of a symbol to represent an object/idea. This is the basis of spoken language also. By using sign, the person can grasp the concept that they can influence the world through their actions. Helping a person develop this communicative intent is very important because it forms the basis of the person’s motivation to communicate.
The person should be hearing the spoken word with sign as often as if only the spoken word were used, and yet the advantages above are to be had.