Nataraja's BLOGS

Inclusive Sign Language training for children with special needs

Published: Nov 5th, 2019 07:57 pmBy Nataraja R

How about teaching Sign Language to children with Special Needs that includes Autism, Down Syndrome and other disabilities as well? Why should we teach them? Since they can speak and listen but why they need to learn Sign Language?

Though the research says that Sign Language helps children eliminate their stressful behaviours, it helps promote more inclusiveness but I also wanted to experience the same. Research also suggests that using sign language with child may help develop open communication skills.

All of my these questions got answered when I got a call from Shanthi & Sharmila, founders of EKA Educational Trust, an inclusive learning environment for children with special needs. We decided to have an inclusive training for children irrespective of their disabilities which indeed was first time which we wanted to try. I visited them twice just to understand and know about Children.

Initially I was bit apprehensive as how would I teach sign language to all these children but Shanthi and Sharmila, the backbone of EKA, gave me support and assisted me throughout the sessions. Thanks to Ravi, my good old volunteer friend, who keeps assisting me as and when needed for the inputs as he too did an exclusive photography session for these children.

Though it took some time for me to understand their challenges as there were students with different kinds of disabilities, but later on I too customized my modules to suit their needs after discussion with Special Ed teachers at EKA.

I still remember my Day 1 at EKA. Children welcomed me with great excitement. Everyone picked up almost all the signs on Day1. There was one student, who was hardly paying any attention. The moment he came and showed all the signs with perfection, none could believe him. There were many goosebump moments we experienced, when children showed all these signs in front of their teachers and other friends. There was one visually impaired child, we were so happy to see him signing with other friends and special thanks to all the teachers who were equally present and helped students learn all the signs. 

The energy was indeed infectious and just took few hours for me to get bonded with everyone. Thanks to my deaf friend Shylaja, who assisted me throughout my sessions. For her too, teaching children with special needs was first time, which she also enjoyed a lot

Slowly we started observing lots of changes in children on day to day basis.

  • They became more expressive, though they prefer to be non-verbal but with the help of Sign language, they started expressing their basic needs which was a great improvement.
  • They also started interacting in Sign language with their teachers esp daily used instructions
  • Few students who are visual learners, picked up the signs quite easily
  • The kids also loved interacting with Shylaja as most of them had never seen a person with speech and hearing impairment. This way, their signing skills got tested too :)
  • Finally last day, everyone performed a skit completely in Sign Language which made us spellbound.

Those 10 days were one of my most memorable days. After a few sessions, one day when I reached early, few students came to me and started communicating in Sign Langage. They signed Nice Meeting you, Finished Lunch, etc. Activities also helped them to understand the signs. Slowly they started signing sentences, just basic ones. Though these were small instances but this small kind of act made me think that if they keep using this language for long time, they can easily improve their interpersonal skills, improve effective communication with the outside world, and lot many other things.

After having conducted the session for 10 days, finally I could list out the benefits of teaching Sign language to children with special needs based on my experience

  • Teaching few basic signs in early childhood can actually be beneficial for nonverbal or minimally verbal children with autism or down syndrome
  • Sign language is a visual language, so kids with visual learners will tend to pick up easily and helps them communicate their needs
  • It also opens up inclusive space since they are inclusive now and this helps them define their career options in different verticals.

I really suggest Special Ed Teachers, parents of children with autism or Down Syndrome, to start using Sign language in early childhood, this way you will be nurturing inclusion and it becomes easy for your kid in future to be independent.

Testimonial from Shanthi - EKA founder
You are really a brilliant teacher! Not every knowledged person can be a teacher but you are one! I’m glad we both stand on same platform as teachers and share success stories. More to go!

Contact Nataraja

Recent Posts

Older Posts