How Sign Language Helped My Daughter Communicate

In honour of World Sign Language Day, Kellie Kearney shares her story about how sign language helped her daughter to communicate.

A little over a year ago I began to question my daughter's development, I believed her speech was way behind her peers and while many stressed she was a late talker - I just knew something was wrong. Call it mother's instinct, if you will. 

She had a very limited spoken vocabulary for her age, in fact, she had roughly thirty words on her third birthday. After what seemed like months of toing and froing, we got some answers alongside a diagnosis. 

Last month we celebrated her fourth birthday and she is the funniest, chattiest four-year-old I know. Her pronunciation is completely off and outsiders really struggle to understand her but I can understand her as do her siblings and our close relatives and friends. 

An average three-year-old has the ability to walk up to you and tell you they would like a snack, a drink or to play with a particular toy but my little girl couldn't and it often lead to mega tantrums, upset and overall unnecessary distress so that's why we decided as a family to think outside the box.

Children can express their feelings through facial expressions, body language, behaviour and play and I used this to my advantage as I helped my daughter find her voice. We started using sign language within our home to communicate and without it, we wouldn't be where we are today. 

It is not just deaf and hard of hearing who use sign language, it is a means of communication for so many people, including those with down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and of course speech disorders. 

Little girl in a meadow
Sign language motivates children to try out new words, especially when their speech is unclear or limited.

Sign language has many benefits and has been proven to reduce frustration for both children and adults with additional needs allowing users to be understood when trying to communicate their needs. It encourages eye contact which is a very important skill for speech development while promoting self-expression and allowing children to be part of the conversation. 

It motivates children to try out new words, especially when their speech is unclear or limited. This helps to broaden their vocabulary in a fun way while also helping develop language skills meaning they get to practice and try out how language works.

I started by simply googling standard signs for some of the words she really struggled with and when she pointed at things and mumbled something, in particular.

I began by signing the word back to her while saying the word out loud in an animated voice. After a few weeks, she began repeating the signs back to me while also attempting to pronounce the particular word and her siblings started to join in too.

Within a few months with the help of sign language, interactive games, storybooks and playing nursery rhymes on repeat, my daughter hit her first 100-word milestone and now a year later she hit a 400-word milestone and is now completing five to six-word sentences.

It has been a rollercoaster for us but without the use of sign language, we wouldn't be where we are today. Sign language absolutely rocks!

Happy International Day Of Sign Language.

Kellie Kearney

Kellie Kearney is a Dublin mammy of five kids aged newborn right up to nine. She loves coffee, cloth nappies, travel and sharing her every day true to life family moments on Instagram.

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