Is it true that some people just don’t communicate?

In 10 years of working with some of the most profoundly disabled people, I have never met anyone who does not communicate at all! Some individuals don’t have any speech which leads people to say things like ‘they don’t have any communication’, but a closer observation reveals that they usually have a huge range of non verbal methods of communication. There is so much more to communication than just speech – please see the About Communication page for more details.

Will using sign language or symbols for communication stop my child from talking?

No, in fact many studies have shown that using sign language and symbols actually helps bring on a child’s talking. Indeed, many nurseries now use signed English routinely to support the development of the children in their care.

If you are interested to learn more, you can find an easily readable review of a scientific paper reviewing the effect of signing on speech & communication development by clicking here.

Are signs and symbols the same thing?

No they are not. In terms of communication, signs are shapes or gestures usually made with the hands as part of a ‘sign language’ like Signalong, Makaton or British Sign Language.

Symbols are simple pictures that stand for words. There are lots of different symbol ‘vocabularies’, a bit like there are different alphabets for some of the world’s languages. It doesn’t really matter which one you use as long as you are consistent.

Is there more than one kind of sign language?

Yes. There are many different formal sign languages including Makaton, Signalong, Canaan Barrie, British Sign Language and American Sign Language. There are 2 kinds of formal sign language:

  • Key word signing – here only the key words of a sentence are signed to support understanding of the main spoken language being used. If you are speaking English, this can be called ‘signed English’. Sign languages like this have large vocabularies of naming, action and describing words but very little by way of grammar. Examples are Makaton, Signalong and Canaan Barrie signs.
  • Sign Systems that are languages in their own right like British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL). These have their own grammar, word order and culture associated with them. BSL is as different from English as Greek or Spanish are. Interestingly, BSL and ASL are also completely different from each other, much moreso than British and American English. There are also different ‘accents’ and regional variations within sign languages like BSL and ASL.