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Citation:  Corley, L. (2016, May 11). Benefits Of Sign Language. ASL University. Retrieved from



By Lynn Corley

Benefits of Sign Language

For years the teaching and use of signed languages was restricted. The theory was if Deaf or hard of hearing individuals signed they would "never" develop spoken language. Yet, in recent years the importance of signed languages has started to be recognized. American Sign Language (ASL) is now being incorporated not only into Deaf education, but also into the education of hearing normative children and children with special needs. Early claims were that signed languages were impairing. However, it has now been proven "the language areas of the brain have no preference for language input" (Baker, 2011). This means that whether language is oral or manual does not matter in the formation of a language base. For Deaf children the most accessible languages are those that are visual -- the use of which has been shown to have a positive influence on the development of spoken language and literacy in Deaf students (Baker, 2011).

The effects of signed languages on Autistic and other "disabled" children has also been studied.  Various children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, as well as, other intellectual, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities have demonstrated a higher quality of communication when a signed language is utilized in lieu of or in addition to spoken language (Dunst, Meter, & Hamby, 2011).  For this population the use of sign language is now advised (Goldstein, 2010).

Communication is essential for the emotional development of all children.  Children with disabilities often experience issues in this area. It has become clear that caregivers must provide the highest quality of interaction by being responsive and using avenues like signed languages that provide non-verbal communication (Phelan, 2013). Studies have even promoted the use of sign language with hearing children--typically in conjunction with a spoken language. There appears to be a correlation between tantrums and a child's inability to communicate their needs. With signed language communication becomes easier. By the end of the of a child's first year, babies begin to initiate intentional communication through simple vocalization and/or gestures to which they expect others to respond to (Malloy, 2003). Children as young as 5 or 6 months old have been shown to use basic, limited signs to initiate communication (Signing, 2014).

It is important to remember that there is a difference between acquiring a language and learning a language. In an article for the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education (2008), Dr. Madden states acquisition happens without conscious effort on the part of the learner, whereas learning requires effort through study. The "norm" has often been to force Deaf children to learn when they might actually more easily acquire a language; this in large part comes from focusing on spoken language first and foremost. Infants are born with the ability to learn any human language.  The language they learn depends on which language they are exposed too. Rather than making the decision to concentrate on only one language children can and should be exposed to both spoken and signed language.

The development of a language base has lasting and beneficial effects throughout a child's life and signed languages are shown to play an interesting part in a child's mental health (Malloy, 2003). Sign language is a well substantiated way to promote self-esteem and confidence for children whether Deaf, hard of hearing, "disabled" or hearing. The psychological consequences have been demonstrated time and time again to be negative for all children when they are deprived of language (Malloy, 2003).


Baker, S. (2011). Advantages of Early Visual Language (Research brief). Retrieved from a pdf from Gallaudet University, Washington D.C.

Dunst, C., Meter, D., & Hamby, D. (2011). Influences of Sign and Oral Language Interventions on the Speech and Oral Language Production of Young Children with Disabilities. CELLReviews, 4 (4), 1-20.

Goldstein, J. (2010, July 19). Parents Finding Benefit in Teaching Babies Sign Language as Well as Speech. Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved October 12, 2015, from

Madden, Dr. Maree (2008). Early exposure to sign language: An advantage to parents and children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from

Malloy, Tiara V. (2003). Sign language use for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing babies: the
evidence supports it. American Society for Deaf Children.

Also see: "Sign Language and its Benefits for Hearing Children"
Also see: "The Benefits of Learning Sign Language


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