Frequently Asked Questions

What is Key Word Sign?

Key Word Sign is a communication system that combines manual signs, gestures, facial expressions and spoken words to support individuals with communication difficulties, such as those with communication disorders or limited verbal abilities.

Short sentences are spoken with key words of a sentence being signed.

It is often used to enhance communication and understanding for people with various disabilities, including but not limited to autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. However research has shown there are also benefits for all children. For more information on who can benefit from key word sign please see below.

How does Key Word Sign work?

Key Word Sign utilises a small set of core vocabulary words, accompanied by manual signs, to help individuals express their needs, wants, and thoughts. The signs are generally selected based on the most important words in a sentence or phrase.

The signs are used alongside spoken language to provide visual support and enhance communication.

Research recommends starting with between 10-15 signs working up to 50-150 signs depending on the ability of the communication partners and the child to learn and execute the signs. The more signs the child has access to the more communication functions will be available to undertake, ie sharing ideas, thoughts and observations.

Who can benefit from Key Word Sign?

Key Word Sign can benefit individuals of all ages who have difficulty with expressive communication. This may include people with developmental disabilities, individuals with cognitive impairments, those with limited verbal abilities, and people with acquired communication disorders resulting from stroke, brain injury, or other conditions.

Recent research has shown a number of benefits for neurotypical children including assisting with picking up second languages, mental rotation and simply just being able to connect and communicate with their peers who use key word sign. 

Can Key Word Sign be used with children and adults?

Yes, Key Word Sign can be used with individuals of all ages. It can be particularly beneficial for young children who are still developing their speech and language skills, as well as adults who have communication difficulties due to various disabilities or conditions.

At Sunshine Sign and Sign we provide key word sign services and resources for children.

Are there different versions of Key Word Sign?

Yes, different countries or regions may have their own versions of key word sign, which may be called manual signing, MAKATON, simplified signing or other terms for this communication tool. While the basic principles of key word sign remain the same, the signs will be different for each country and may even have regional differences within the country similar to Australia.

What are the differences between Auslan, Key Word Sign, Signed English, and Cued Speech?

Key Word Sign: Key Word Sign is a communication system that incorporates manual signs and spoken words. It is used to support individuals with communication difficulties, such as those with communication disorders or limited verbal abilities. Key Word Sign focuses on using a limited set of core vocabulary words alongside spoken language to enhance communication and understanding. It is not a complete sign language like Auslan.

Auslan (Australian Sign Language): Auslan is a complete and distinct sign language used by the Deaf community in Australia. It has its own grammar, vocabulary, and cultural elements. Auslan is the primary language of the Australian Deaf community and has been recognised as an official language in Australia since 1987.

Signed English: Signed English is a sign language system that aims to represent English word-for-word using signs. Unlike Auslan, Signed English is not a natural language with its own grammar. It is a manual code that follows the word order and structure of spoken English, with all words being signed, unlike key word sign that only signs key words. Signed English is often used as a communication tool in educational settings to support language development and facilitate the learning of spoken English for individuals with communication difficulties.

Cued Speech / Cued Articulation: It is a set of hand cues for teaching the individual sounds in a word. The hand movements represents one sound and the cue gives clues as to how and where the sound is produced. The hand cues do not represent words but are connected to the sounds a person makes.

While all the systems involve the use of signs, they differ in their purpose, structure, and relationship to spoken language. Auslan is a complete sign language with its own grammar and cultural context, Key Word Sign focuses on core vocabulary words to enhance communication, Signed English is a manual code that directly represents spoken English and Cued Speech uses handshake to assist the understand of mouth sounds.

Why is it easier for some children to use sign before speech?

Children often develop the ability to use signs before they fully develop their speech capabilities. This can be attributed to several factors:

  • Gestures precede spoken language: Babies and children naturally use gestures before they start speaking. Their brains are primed for gestures, and speech often follows gestures in language development. Signing is a natural extension of these early gestures, providing them with meaningful communication before spoken language fully emerges.
  • Iconic nature of signs: Sign language incorporates iconic signs that visually resemble the objects, actions, or properties they represent. This iconicity aids children’s comprehension and makes it easier for them to associate signs with their meanings. Unlike many spoken words, signs often have a direct visual connection to their referents, which facilitates understanding and early communication.
  • Easier to pick out signs: Signing slows down communication partners’ speech naturally, as they sign along with spoken words. This slower pace of communication allows children more time to process and comprehend the information. Additionally, signs can be segmented, highlighting essential aspects of communication and facilitating the child’s understanding of spoken language.
  • More interactions: When children use signs, it often elicits increased spoken language input from parents, caregivers, and peers. Signs act as a bridge between gestures and spoken language, indicating the child’s interests and topics of conversation. This increased interaction and engagement with spoken language support the child’s language development.
  • Reduced anxiety: Learning to communicate through signs can reduce the pressure on non-speaking individuals to rely solely on speech. The availability of an effective avenue of communication through signing can alleviate anxiety, creating a more receptive environment for interventions aimed at facilitating spoken language development.
  • Auditory and visual input: Sign language provides dual modality input by combining visual, auditory, and gestural cues. This multimodal input engages multiple senses and areas of the brain, making the information more memorable and facilitating language acquisition. The combination of visual and auditory information enhances comprehension and retention of linguistic concepts.
  • Movement: The act of creating signs involves movement, which has a positive impact on language development. Gesture and mime play a significant role in a child’s communication, and skilled hand movements activate the same brain areas responsible for comprehension. The motor movements involved in signing contribute to the overall language development process.

Can Key Word Sign encourage speech development?

Yes, exposure to Key Word Sign has been found to encourage speech development in children. Key Word Sign can serve as a valuable tool in supporting and enhancing spoken language skills. Here’s how it can promote speech development:

  • Signs aid comprehension: Key Word Sign incorporates iconic signs that visually represent objects, actions, or properties. This iconicity aids children’s comprehension, making it easier for them to understand the meaning of signs and associate them with spoken words.
  • Interaction and language modelling: When children use Key Word Sign, it often elicits increased spoken language input from parents, caregivers, and peers. This increased interaction provides more opportunities for children to observe and imitate spoken words, reinforcing the connection between signs and speech.
  • Bridging gestures and spoken language: Key Word Sign acts as a bridge between early gestures and spoken language. By using signs, children learn to associate gestures with meaningful communication, paving the way for the development of spoken words and language.
  • Multimodal input: Key Word Sign provides a multimodal input by combining visual, auditory, and gestural cues. This combination engages multiple senses and areas of the brain, facilitating language processing and supporting the development of spoken language skills.
  • Reduced anxiety and enhanced communication: Key Word Sign reduces anxiety for non-speaking individuals by providing an effective avenue of communication. This reduction in anxiety creates a more receptive environment for interventions aimed at facilitating spoken language development.
  • Motor coordination and speech production: The motor movements involved in signing contribute to the overall development of fine motor skills and oral-motor coordination, which are essential for speech production. Engaging in sign language can indirectly support the development of speech-related motor skills.

It’s important to note that Key Word Sign is not meant to replace speech but rather to support and enhance communication. It serves as a valuable tool in promoting overall language development, including the development of spoken language skills.

How can I learn Key Word Sign?

At Sunshine Sign and Sing we tailor our professional development training for Early Learning Services, Schools, Occupational Therapists, Music Therapists, Physiotherapists and Speech Therapists. We are also keen to work with other professions that work with children to tailor make our training to your specific needs. An outline of our professional training includes:

  • What is key word sign
  • History of key word sign
  • How to Sign
  • How to recognise first sign attempts
  • Signs that are tailored to your family or profession (core and fringe signs)
  • Setting up a successful signing environment (including simple language facilitation techniques)
  • Common Barriers
  • Access to physical and online resources

Please contact us today to let us know how we can assist with your children’s key word sign needs.