How Sign Language May Be Helpful for Children with Rare Speech Disorder

sign language for apraxia

Researchers from Penn State’s College of Medicine have discovered that using sign language in conjunction with intensive speech therapy may provide better results for children with apraxia.

What is Apraxia?

Childhood apraxia occurs when a child has trouble producing individual sounds or words due to the inability of the required muscles to function effectively in a coordinated motion.  It is classified as a motor speech disorder. While muscles are involved in the process, it is not caused by paralysis or weakness of the muscles. Rather, it is because the brain has difficulty telling the appropriate muscles to move in the desired way. The tongue, lips, and jaw are not being told what to do effectively, even though they are able to physically perform the movements. Children are typically diagnosed at around age two and a half, and then have the condition confirmed after age three.

Case Study

In the case study cited by the Penn State researchers, the child was diagnosed at 18 months. This is significantly younger than average and early intervention has long been established as an important component of success in speech therapy. This child was taught sign language as a method of communication as his ability to communicate verbally was developed. This is the first study of its kind to focus exclusively on the use of sign language as an alternative form of communication in conjunction with speech therapy.

There has been some concern in the medical world that teaching a child with a speech disorder to use sign language would somehow slow their progress in learning to use their voice. However, prior research indicated that it is truly an effective method of reducing frustration and encouraging verbalization.

This patient was given intensive speech therapy to develop muscle control and develop sounds. The mother was given a home program to improve the child’s control of tongue movement. Prior to treatment, he had minimal communication skills. After the treatment, he was able to have conversations with his parents, who were able to understand a majority of what he was saying. As the patient’s verbal abilities increased, he slowly began to discontinue the use of sign language on his own.

Sign Language at Home

The researchers believe that the use of sign language at home was key in the rapid development of the child’s communication skills. Because it was used in conjunction with intensive speech therapy, the child was able to learn to communicate freely with those around him while developing the requisite muscle control to then translate those skills into verbal communication.

The researchers have proposed further studies to better understand the role of early intervention, sign language, and speech therapy in this and other early childhood speech and language disorders. However, there seems to be enough evidence to suggest the inclusion of sign language in the speech therapy regimens of some children going forward.

10 people have commented - add your two cents!

  1. Currently hold an EIPA score of 4.7. I am interested in a full time position in VA. I currently reside in FL. Thank you.

  2. Moving to GA. Looking for a community college which provides classes to inhance my signing skills as well as attending silent dinners or other deaf community events.

    1. Hi Shirlene! Thanks for reaching out. We would suggest you do some research online for programs and classes in Georgia. Facebook would also be a great resource for local events around the area. Good luck!

  3. I live and work in New Albany, Indiana. I am a staff sign language interpreter for an agency here, but my position may possibly be disappearing. I have 20+ years of educational interpreting experience and a 3.5 EIPA, pursuing the 4.0. I have also done medical, community, church, and other types of interpreting. I would be interested if there are any ProCare interpreting opportunities near me on the Indiana side. New Albany is in Southern Indiana.

    1. Hi! We would be happy to help. Feel free to browse our open positions for Sign Language Interpreters at https://www.procaretherapy.com/school-jobs/sign-language-interpreter-jobs/. You should be able to filter by state or search for specific cities. Many of our recruiters also include their contact info in their job postings if you have a question about a specific opportunity. You can also send us an inquiry or request to be contacted at this link: https://www.procaretherapy.com/contact/. Thanks!

  4. I just recently saw your post I got an email from Reuben Robinson who saw my profile on linkedin and he knows I took ASL. I took ASL 1 and 2 when I was at HCC but right now I recently got two new jobs. Can someone keep me updated if any other sign language job opportunities pop up. I am currently volunteer at Life Bridge and I do when I can participate in events that going on in the deaf community.

  5. I just recently saw your post I got an email from Reuben Robinson who saw my profile on linkedin and he knows I took ASL. I took ASL 1 and 2 when I was at HCC but right now I recently got two new jobs. Can someone keep me updated if any other sign language job opportunities pop up.

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