ASL Research

Why Speech-language Pathologists Like Incorporating ASL Into Their Treatment Intervention, and Why American Sign Language is Gaining Recognition as a Useful Universal World Language

On Apraxia:

Childhood Apraxia and the Benefits of Sign Language

Childhood apraxia of speech is a motor disorder which causes children to have difficulty voluntarily making the movements needed for speech. Children with apraxia of speech do have the capability to say speech sounds, but they have a problem with motor planning.

Imagine knowing exactly what you want to say, but when you open your mouth, only a garbled fraction of the word comes out – or even worse, something that doesn’t resemble what you’re trying to say at all! You can’t seem to put more than two or three words together and form a sentence. Your parents and friends don’t understand what you’re saying, and you have no idea why. This can become incredibly frustrating for children, and sometimes even discourages them from wanting to talk.

It’s been shown that through extensive therapy with a speech-language pathologist, some children with apraxia can in fact resolve some of their problems with talking, though the disorder itself is thought to probably last forever. One thing the therapy tends to focus on is helping the child control how fast s/he talks (slowing it down gives your child more time to process his or her words). Another is the ability to control how his voice rises and falls as he talks (rhythm and melody can often help him learn to speak). Also, controlling the rhythm of his words can help (making sentences easier to put together).

There are many methods used by speech-language pathologists, often times involving visual cues. Some have children use communication boards or pictures, as well as some basic finger signs to prompt or guide the child along. This is where sign language comes into the picture, and can be extremely beneficial. It’s not very hard to see why. Even though the general school of thought is that sign language is only for deaf people, that is simply not true. By giving children with apraxia of speech (who can hear perfectly fine) the opportunity to use sign, we open up a whole new way to communicate. This can in turn also help them more effectively develop their ability to talk.

Children with apraxia need multi-sensory input. The visual cues of sign can build a bridge for children to progress to normal-sounding speech. When both using a sign and voicing a word, it helps the child remember the motor process for that word.

For example, let’s think about the word “food.” A therapist might use the sign for “food” while also saying the word aloud, and the child does the same. With this doubling-up of cues, the child remembers the process easier. He’s seeing the sign, hearing the word, and then physically making the sign himself while saying the word aloud. This process is far more likely to stick than simply imitating the word he is being given. Seeing the sign can give him a visual “clue” to what word or idea he is trying to express. It also slows down the rate of speech, giving him more time to process what he’s trying to say.

Sign language is beneficial to children with apraxia on several different levels.

  • Emotionally:

It is far less frustrating to be able to, at the very least, sign what it is he needs. This makes it much easier to communicate on the most basic of levels. Instead of straining and stringing incorrect words together to form a broken sentence, a child could make the sign to show that he is thirsty. Of course, coupling this with voicing what words he can say will help him remember – and positive re-enforcement from family repeating a correct sentence back to him helps as well. It shows the child that he is being understood, and can make him more positive about communication in general.

  • Socially:

Having the option of sign language in addition to vocal speech will help children form better relationships with their peers, as well as adults. Imagine how difficult it would be for a child who has such trouble talking to make friends. He would have a hard time communicating, and would probably often times be excluded from group activity. Also, he might be afraid to try to talk to other kids. If a child feels like other kids don’t understand him, it can cause him to shy away from people and not want to even try to make friends. Children with apraxia have also been known to act out when they are frustrated, and that can lead to even more social problems. Sign language gives these kids another option.

  • Academically:

If a child is trying to learn, but is distracted so much by the pressure of trying to produce speech, he’s not going to be focused on the material in front of him. By having the option to sign as well, he will be more attentive and involved with what he is learning. Children with apraxia are often at risk of falling behind in expressive language – the ability to properly use the rules of language to put sentences together. Sign can help kids keep expanding their expressive language by giving them another way to communicate an entire idea, instead of improperly constructing sentences and not knowing how to correct them. This would make it easier for them to talk with their teacher, ask appropriate questions, and make the entire learning process easier.

Children with apraxia can use sign to assist their verbal speech – it should be thought of as a ‘bridge’ or an ‘anchor’ to communication. Once they find that they are being more easily understood, they tend to be more willing to learn and try to use more words. Using sign language for children with apraxia is not meant to replace their talking. It is meant to help them more effectively be able to speak.

ON Higher IQ :

Baby Sign Language May Boost IQ

If you’re a parent, you probably remember the very first time your baby waved hello to you. Now, developmental experts say building on that simple gesture can help parents talk with their baby before the child actually says a word.

Doctors who’ve been studying the effects of teaching sign language to babies say the practice can improve the bond that exists between babies and their parents.

“What we know about infants in their very first years of life is, they’re very frustrated because they can’t communicate,” said Dr. Linda Acredolo, co-founder of the Baby Signs Institute. “So by providing them with very simple signs, like the deaf community uses, we find that we can lower frustration and really make a bond that’s warm and rich between parent and child.”

Long before he could talk, Alex Theg, now 16, was communicating using sign language. His mother, Jill Theg, says the experience made those early years more enjoyable.

“It’s just so hard when you know your kid wants something but you don’t know what it is and they’re trying so hard to get you to understand. But Baby Signs just made it easy,” Theg said.

Alex is one of 140 sign language babies followed by researchers for the past 16 years as part of a long-term study on the effects of signing with babies.

These days, Alex is an A student who is outgoing and involved in athletics. Acredolo says children like Alex, who’ve learned sign language at an early age, seem to be high achievers.

Acredolo says when these children had their IQs tested at 8 years old, they scored an average of 12 points higher than the control group. She says the same children also achieved higher-than-average scores on their SATs

As interest in baby sign language has grown over the years, more workshops have popped up across the country, where parents hope to bridge that frustrating communication gap with children as young as six months old.

Melanie Suhrada says signing has already made life with her baby boy easier.

“We were at the carousel at the mall about a week ago and he was giving me the ‘no more, no more’ [sign] and I was able to get him just about to the car before he started to have his breakdown.” Suhrada said. “So it’s very functional for me and a confidence boost for him.”

“Good Morning America” parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy says most parents use signs to try to communicate with babies every day, but using sign language takes it one step further. Murphy says the key to making signing work is repetition. Murphy says every time parents use a sign, they should also say the corresponding word and then give the baby what he or she wants.

Murphy says research reveals only a positive effect when baby sign language is used. She says parents should not be concerned that signing will delay speaking in any way.

Most importantly, Acredolo says years of research shows that using sign language with babies will help parents and children enjoy a better relationship.

“There’s no doubt in our minds that the most important message for parents is to know that the signing will help you and your baby connect in a richer way,” Acredolo said. “The social and emotional benefits to the family are really a most important advantage of signing with your baby.”


On Various Aspects of Development

Baby Sign Language Research


Over the last two decades there has been numerous research conducted around the topic of baby sign language. Below is a list of studies/research/articles on baby sign language that highlight the various benefits of using baby sign language in your home or childcare centre.

Using Sign Language With Hearing Children (Babies, Pre-School & Primary aged Children)

Acredolo & Goodwyn:
Acredolo & Goodwyn conducted over twenty years of research on the benefits of using simple hand movements with pre-verbal babies. Below is a link to their three main studies:


Susan Goodwyn, Linda Acredolo, and Catherine Brown (2000). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24 (2), pp. 81-103.
Article – Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on early language development


Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. (July 2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK.
ArticleThe long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8


Brie Moore, Linda Acredolo, & Susan Goodwyn (April 2001). Symbolic gesturing and joint attention: Partners in facilitating verbal development. Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development.
ArticleSymbolic gesturing and joint attention

Marilyn Daniels:
Dr. Marilyn Daniels, a professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State University, is a distinguished researcher and a recognized authority of studying the benefits of teaching sign language to children in preschool through sixth grade. Below are a list of her studies, books and journal entries:


“ASL as a Possible Factor in the Acquisition of English for Hearing Children,” Sign Language Studies, 1993, Vol. 78, pp. 23-29.

  “The Effect of Sign Language on Hearing Children’s Language Development,” Communication Education, 1994, Vol. 43:4, pp. 291-298.
  “Words More Powerful Than Sound,” Sign Language Studies, 1994, Vol. 83, pp. 155-166.
  “Nonverbal Language and Manual Speech,” The Speech Communication Annual, 1994, Vol. 8, p. 51-60.
  “Seeing Language: The Effect Overtime of Sign Language on Vocabulary Development in Early Childhood Education,” Child Study Journal, 1996, Vol. 26:3, pp. 193-208.
  “Previously Masked Concepts: The Communicative Role of Language in Deaf and Hearing Cultures,” Ohio Speech Journal, 1996, Vol. 34, pp. 1-15.
  “Bilingual, Bimodel Education for Hearing Kindergarten Students,” Sign Language Studies, 1996, Vol. 90, pp. 25-37.
  “Teacher Enrichment of Prekindergarten Curriculum with Sign Language,” Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 1997, Vol. 12:1, pp. 27-33.
  Sign Language Advantage. Sign Language Studies. Vol.2:1, 2001, pp.5-19.
Sign Education: A Communication Tool for Young Learners. Speech Communication Association of Pennsylvania Annual. Vol.LVII, 2001, pp.77-95.
  Reading Signs: A Way to Promote Early Childhood Literacy. Communication Teacher. Vol. 16:2, 2002, pp.32-38.
  Using A Signed Language as a Second Language for Kindergarten Students. Child Study Journal. Vol.33:1, 2003, 2003, pp. 53-70.
  Happy Hands: The Effect of ASL on Hearing Children’s Literacy. Reading Research and Instruction. Vol. 44:1 Fall 2004, pp.86-100.
  Deaf President Now and American Sign Language: Seeing Rhetoric. Pennsylvania Communication Association Annual. 2005, (in press).
  The Silent Signs of Learning: ASL in a Special Needs Class. Child Study Journal. 2005, (in press).
  Daniels, M. (2001). Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.

Other Researchers & Articles:

  Wilson, R., Teague, J., and Teague, M. (1985). The Use of Signing and Fingerspelling to Improve Spelling Performance with Hearing Children. Reading Psychology, 4, 267-273.
  Hafer, J. (1986). Signing For Reading Success. Washington D.C.: Clerc Books, Gallaudet University Press.
  Koehler, L., and Loyd, L. (September 1986). Using Fingerspelling/Manual Signs to Facilitate Reading and Spelling. Biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. (4′th Cardiff Wales).
  “The Effect of Singing Paired with Signing on Receptive Vocabulary Skills of Elementary ESL Students”, Heather A. Schunk, Journal of Music Therapy: Vol. 36, No 2, pp. 110-124.
  Sign Language: The Best Second Language? By Steve Kokette
  Hearing Students, Sign Language, and Music: A Valuable Combination By Steve Kokette
  “Sign, Baby, Sign!” by Kristin Snoddon, Article in World Federation of Deaf News, May 2000, pp. 16-17.

Using Sign Language With Children Who Have Reading Disabilities:


Vernon, M., Coley, J., Hafer, J., and Dubois, J. (April 1980). Using Sign Language to Remediate Severe Reading Problems. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 13, 215-218.


Blackburn, D., Vonvillian, J., and Ashby, R. (January 1984). Manual Communication as an Alternative Mode of Language Instruction for Children with Severe Reading Disabilities. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 15, 22-31.


Carney, J., Cioffi, G., and Raymond, W. (Spring 1985). Using Sign Language For Teaching Sight Words. Teaching Exceptional Children. 214-217.


Sensenig, L., Topf, B., and Mazeika, E. (June 1989). Sign Language Facilitation of Reading with Students Classified as Trainable Mentally Handicapped. Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded, 121-125.