Autism is a neural disability that results in impaired social skills, weakened language and behavioral development. This disorder affects various parts of the brain and is identified in the first few years of a baby’s childhood. Autism continues throughout adulthood, affecting three crucial areas of development, i.e. verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and creative and imaginative play. Other characteristics can include repetitive and ritualistic behaviors, hand flapping, spinning or running in circles, excessive fears, temper tantrums, sleeping and eating disturbances and self injury like head banging or biting. Research has proved the advantage of using sign language as a medium of expression to help autistic children. Sign language provides an alternative mode of communication for autistic children to learn. The sign language uses movements of hands, arms or body and facial expressions in order to communicate. Let us look at the benefits of teaching sign language to autistic children in the following lines.
Reasons for Teaching Sign Language to Autistic Children
There are various reasons why sign language is taught to children affected with autism. When all efforts to develop proper speech in a child fail; sign language emerges as the lender of the last resort. Sign language when taught, along with verbal communication, helps an autistic child to understand that spoken words and mastered signs go hand in hand. The other reason for teaching sign language to children is that it helps an autistic child to socialize with family members, thereby helping him/her develop relationships. Gestures to express feelings go a long way in encouraging new meaningful associations for such children. Also, sign language effectively improves the behavioral pattern in autistic children. Once the child has mastered the autistic sign language (ASL), he/she will be in a condition to convey his needs and desires in a better way, thereby reducing tantrums.
Benefits Of Teaching Sign Language To Children With Autism
- Sign language reduces the gap between speech and language, thereby activating the areas of the brain that are inactive. Since most gestures are easily associated with objects, autistic children can easily learn them.
- Autistic children tend to display negative social behaviors such as tantrums, anxiety, self-injury and aggression. This mainly happens because of the child’s inability to communicate his/her basic needs and wants. Teaching sign language eases out the frustration, enabling the child to communicate effectively.
- Sign language helps autistic children to associate gestures with meanings, thereby enabling them to express themselves. Remember, expressive and receptive language skills are the most important building blocks for social interactions. Thus, by expressing themselves, such children are able to interact socially.
- Sign language helps in developing cognitive structures and establishing connections in the brain that are essential for speech and language. By encoding the sign language, an autistic child takes a positive step towards learning and communicating with others.
Disadvantages of Teaching Sign Language to Autistic Children
Sign language requires constant focus, since it is a visual mode of communication. However, as most autistic children suffer from attention deficits, sign language can do more harm than good to them. Secondly, autistic children who have learnt sign language run the risk of being isolated or lonesome. Though sign language can be beneficial to the child with autism, he might find it difficult communicating with people who do not know or cannot understand sign language, thus isolating him/her from the crowd.