The young child with severe speech production deficits usually has a good understanding of language even though he does not talk. This is very frustrating for the child. One of our first tasks is to lower hat frustration level so that the child can enjoy communication. We all communicate in many ways: body language, facial expression, gesture, sound effects and spoken and written words. If we view sign language as a formal set of gestures, then it is not very different from the communication we use all the time. As people, we are driven to communicate with others through talking, however, when talking is difficult to learn, learning to communicate is also difficult. This is when sign language can be of great help.
Sign language provides the child a way to show others what he wants and knows. It allows him to learn the value of sharing what he knows with others. It gives him success in an area that has previously been defeating. It provides him with a tool through which to learn the value of communication.
Sign language has another significant advantage. When sign language is combined with spoken words, the signs help to cue the correct speech sounds. Children with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) respond very well to the use of gesture cues for speech production. In the young child, sign language provides not only the gesture cues but the keys to successful communication.
Whatever communication tool you and your therapist decide to use while the child is learning spoken language, rest assured that the child will not want to stop learning to talk. As soon as the child is able to be understood, he will want to stop using the other system. It is much easier and more flexible to use spoken language and the child will choose it above all other means of communication. The important thing for the child to know is that we value what he has to say, no matter how he says it!