sign language

Sign Language to Help Treat Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Childhood apraxia of speech may be effectively treated in part with sign language. That was the conclusion of a study by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, who recommended further study and noted the effectiveness of early intervention of numerous pediatric therapies together.

There is a great deal of evidence to show that learning sign language is beneficial for all children – regardless of whether they have a speech delay. Researchers have found when children learn sign language:

  • It improves the cognition in typically-developing children;
  • It does not impair or prevent communication for children with disabilities;
  • It can help both younger and older children develop important language skills.

What this means is you can teach a baby sign language, and it’s not going to hinder him from speaking. But it’s been shown especially effective for children with speech and language disorders. In some cases, sign language allows these children to communicate before they are actually able to speak. That can be a significant breakthrough in some cases, especially for children with autism.

As our Fort Myers speech therapists can explain, childhood apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder. Children with this condition have difficulty saying sounds, syllables and words, but it’s not because of muscle weakness or any type of paralysis. Rather, it’s the brain that has trouble sending messages to the mouth, jaw, tongue and lips – all of which are crucial for speech to occur.

It’s not an issue of low intelligence. In fact, children with apraxia of speech know what to say. However, his or her brain struggles to coordinate the movements of muscle that are necessary to evoke those words.

As with almost any condition, not all children with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) are going to have the exact same symptoms or trouble.

Unfortunately, unlike other more pervasive conditions, there isn’t a great deal of research on the best practices for treatment of CAS. FOCUS Owner Jennifer Voltz has made this condition as a special area of interest within her own practice. She has successfully worked to help numerous children with CAS learn to speak and communicate successfully.

In her experience, teaching a child basic sign language can be an important first step in facilitating effective communication and speech.

As the researchers Penn State pointed out, there is a common misperception that if you teach a child sign language, it’s going to slow down their progress in learning to speak using their voice. However, what our Fort Myers speech therapists have seen – just as these researchers indicated –  is exactly the opposite. In fact, sign language can help to encourage speech by easing the frustration that so often comes with not being able to effectively communicate.

In the case study outlined by these study authors, a patient with CAS was taught sign language to communicate while his verbal speech was still developing. Prior to his treatment, he had extremely limited communication skills. Afterward, he could hold conversations with his parents, who understood 90 percent of what he said, and his speech therapist, who could understand 80 percent of what he said. As his speech skills advanced, patient discontinued the use of sign language on his own.

Researchers concluded that sign language in this instance was shown to be a “highly effective form of language development” that maximized his speech therapy outcomes.

Focus offers pediatric speech therapy services in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Sign language may be helpful for children with rare speech disorder, Sept. 1, 2016, By Matthew Solovey, Penn State University School of Medicine

More Blog Entries:

Study: Better Access to Early Intervention Helps Children At-Risk for Autism, April 5, 2017, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog

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