What is Key Word Signing?

Children’s key word signing products

What is key word signing?

Key word signing is the use of manual signs, facial expressions and natural gestures with spoken words to assist communication for those that are pre-verbal or have communication difficulties. It is one of the most widely used strategies for people that cannot communicate by speech alone. We already use signs and gestures in our everyday life, by using signing we are simply expanding on these gestures and giving them more purpose.

History

Humans have always used signs and gestures as a means of communication. Research suggests that hand gestures and spoken language are integrally linked in human evolution and that language developed from and within gesture systems rather than from vocal calls. Formalised deaf signing teaching started in the 1700’s and now there are many different sign languages all over the world like British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL) and of course Australian Sign Language (Auslan).

In the 1900’s Professor Whitney noted that children of deaf parents communicated a lot sooner than those of hearing parents through signing. In the 1970’s in the UK, Margaret Walker discovered that patients with a mental disability could communicate better using signs alongside spoken language, she also noted this raised their confidence, self esteem and reduced frustration and anger. From this Makaton was formed, Makaton uses signs alongside spoken language as a communication aid. Makaton was soon adopted in Australia but has more recently become Key Word Sign Australia and uses Australian Sign language (Auslan) as it was considered culturally and ecologically more appropriate for the Australian public.

Is key word signing the same as Auslan?

Like Auslan, key word signing uses Australian signs and gestures to communicate however, unlike Auslan, key word signing uses speech when signed. The signing is simplified, using just the key words of the sentence which, unlike Auslan, keeps the same structure as spoken English.  Auslan is a visual language and has it’s own structure, grammar and culture.

Who is key word signing for?

Makaton, which key word signing has evolved from, was originally developed for those with a disability however, it’s benefits for others as a communication aid, particularly children, are widely known. In the U.K. and U.S. simplified signing is popular among many baby groups and likewise many early learning centres have also found the benefits of using this simple and effective tool.

We at Sunshine Sign and Sing believe that more children could benefit from key word signing being used across Australia. Pre-verbal infants, just starting to talk toddlers, those children with Autism, Downs Syndrome, Anxiety, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, who’s main language is not English, neurotypical children and even those that are just very shy, all can benefit from this amazing tool and we here at Sunshine Sign and Sing have a mission to make this happen. We want to normalise the use of signing for all children by providing access to this inclusive communication tool with fun, simple resources.

When should I start using key word signing?

Start now! Pick a sign from our Sign Dictionary or watch a video and just have a go, its super easy and can really make an impact to a child’s life. It might just be calming a baby who wants some milk, helping a toddler get the right toy or sharing the excitement of a little one realising that they can get their needs met and their wants listened to.

How do I start to use signing with children?

In signing you lead with your dominant hand, it is like your pen and your non-dominant hand is your paper. With babies, their hand dominance doesn’t start to show until they are around 2 so before then they will mix it up and use whichever feels more comfortable at the time.

Start with a few simple signs, ones that are exciting to the child, like milk for a baby or often something like a family pet. Incorporate it into play, the best way children learn is through play. Use signing alongside music, nursery rhymes are simple and repetitive, this creates a perfect setting for learning signs and can add extra fun and understanding to a song.

Initially, you may start with just one or two signed word per sentence, “let’s go see the cow in the field,” you may only initially sign “see” and “cow”. However, as the child’s comprehension of signs increases you may sign “go”, “see”, “cow” and “field”.

Use key word signing books and flashcards to incorporate it into your every day. The best way for you to get the most out of this amazing communication tool is to make it part of your life, get into a good routine of using it and you will find it not only easy but life changing.

Why should I use signing with Children?

Hopefully by now you are like us and already excited by the prospect of children communicating more effectively but just to make sure;

Here are some more benefits.

With babies & toddlers, learning key word signing can help learn spoken language quicker and easier.

It helps to:

  • slow speech, making it easier for the child to pick out individual words
  • helps to match the word to the object
  • increase bonding between carer and child
  • release oxytocin – the bodies natural ‘happy drug’
  • reduce frustration and tantrums
  • increase self esteem and confidence
  • encourage imitation and comprehension as the sign can be held
  • give a broader ability to communicate as it uses vocal and visual tools

With older children it can help:

  • emotion regulation
  • organising their thoughts
  • being able to orate what they want to say
  • overcoming physical communication barriers
  • overcoming mental communication barriers
  • feeling included, understood and listened to
  • validating their point of view, needs, wants and wishes

We are passionate about child communication and communication in general. Please contact us for any further information or questions.

Sunshine Sign and Sing has developed resources for professional settings or within the home to create the best signing environment and encourage key word signing to be adopted into your day-to-day life and routine. 

For our resources visit our SHOP or contact us for more information

References

https://www.deafblindinformation.org.au/living-with-deafblindness/deafblind-communication/key-word-sign/ [accessed 2 July 2021] 

History – The Makaton Charity [accessed 08 July 2021]

Key Word Sign and autism | Raising Children Network [accessed 08 July 2021]

 https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/SPAweb/Members/Clinical_Guidelines/spaweb/Members/Clinical_Guidelines/Clinical_Guidelines.aspx?hkey=f66634e4-825a-4f1a-910d-644553f59140 – clinic guidelines – Augumentative and Alternative Communication – page 10 

Millar DC, Light JC, Schlosser RW. The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: a research review. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2006 Apr;49(2):248-64. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021). PMID: 16671842. [accessed 5 July 2021].  Previously seen in Dr Leigha Dark presentation “Key Word Sign Australia Presenter Traning 2016 Issues in Research”  

Dimitrova N, Özçalışkan Ş, Adamson LB. Parents’ Translations of Child Gesture Facilitate Word Learning in Children with Autism, Down Syndrome and Typical Development. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Jan;46(1):221-231. doi: 10.1007/s10803-015-2566-7. Erratum in: J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Feb;48(2):637. PMID: 26362150; PMCID: PMC4762014. [accessed 5 July 2021] 

Sign language – Auslan – Better Health Channel [accessed 8 July 2021]

Broadley, Macdonald and Buckley 1995, Remington & Clarke 1996, Schweigert & Rowland 1998, Miller et al 

https://kwsa.com.au/what-is-kws/ [accessed 5 July 2021] 

https://www.scopeaust.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/The-Story-of-Key-Word-Sign-in-Australia.pdf [accessed 5 July 2021] 

https://kwsa.com.au/what-is-kws/ [accessed 5 July 2021] 

Dimitrova N, Özçalışkan Ş, Adamson LB. Parents’ Translations of Child Gesture Facilitate Word Learning in Children with Autism, Down Syndrome and Typical Development. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Jan;46(1):221-231. doi: 10.1007/s10803-015-2566-7. Erratum in: J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Feb;48(2):637. PMID: 26362150; PMCID: PMC4762014. [accessed 5 July 2021] 

Broadley, Macdonald and Buckley 1995, Remington & Clarke 1996, Schweigert & Rowland 1998, Miller et al 

Millar DC, Light JC, Schlosser RW. The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: a research review. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2006 Apr;49(2):248-64. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021). PMID: 16671842. 

Babysignstoo.com (2019). Language Development. [Online] Available at: https://babysignstoo.com/information/benefits (Accessed: 30 August 2019).

Corballis, M.C. (2002). From hand to mouth: The origins of language. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Daneils, M. (2009). The effect of sign language on hearing children’s language development. Communication Education, 43:4. p.291-298.

Doherty-Sneddon, G. (2008) The great Baby Signing Debate. [Online] Available at: http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-21/edition-4/great-baby-signing-debate (Accessed 30 August 2019).

Moore, B., Acredolo, L.P. & Goodwyn, S.W. (2001). Symbolic gesturing and joint attention. Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research In Child Development, Minneapolis, MN.

Philips, M., L. (2002). Sign Language and the Brain. Available at: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/sign.html (Accessed 30 August 2019).

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.