Imagine knowing precisely 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. 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.
Some 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 tremendously beneficial. Even though the general school of thought is that sign language is only for the Deaf community, that is simply not true. By giving children with apraxia of speech the opportunity to use sign, opens a whole new way to communicate. This can help them 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 speech. When using a sign and voicing a word, it helps the child remember the motor process for that word. seeing the sign, hearing the word, and then physically making the sign while saying the word aloud. This process is far more likely to stick than simply reproducing a word that is being given. Seeing the sign can give a visual "clue" to what word or idea that is trying to be expressed. It also slows down the rate of speech, giving more time to process what is being conveyed
Three ways that sign language positively impacts those with Speech Apraxia:
- Emotionally: It is far less exasperating to be able to, sign what the individual needs this makes it less complex to communicate. Instead of straining and stringing incorrect words together to form a spoken sentence, a child could make the sign to communicate their needs. A positive re-enforcement from the family repeating a correct sentence back helps as well. Studies show that if the child feels understood they feel more positive about communication in general.
- Socially: Having the option of sign language in addition to 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 verbalizing to make friends and often feel excluded from group activity. Children with apraxia have been known to act out when they become frustrated, and that can lead to even more social problems. Sign language gives children another option to communicate freely.
- Academically: By having the option to sign, the child will be more inclined and involved with what he or she is learning. Children with apraxia are often at risk of falling behind in expressive language. Sign language can help with expanding their expressive language by giving them another way to communicate an entire idea.