Sign language benefits child development, boosts self-esteem | Sunday Observer
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Sign language benefits child development, boosts self-esteem

17 October, 2021

World Sign Language Day for hearing impaired persons was observed recently. The Sunday Observer spoke to Senior Lecturer in Paediatrics and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Neurologist at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura Teaching Hospital, Colombo South, Dr Saraji Wijesekera on how Sign Language helps promote the well-being of hearing impaired children.

Dr Wijesekera said Sign Language is a language that uses signs with hands/fingers including facial expression and gestures of the body. This language is primarily used by the hearing-impaired people, but, however, in certain circumstances, others who have communication deficiencies. She said, “A sign is a gesture or action use to convey information or instruction. Finger spelling is representation of individual letters and numbers in standardised finger positions. It serves two different purposes.”

“Experts have found that babies as young as six to seven months old can remember a sign, and that by eight months, children can begin to sign single words and imitate gestures, and by 24 months, children can sign compound words and full sentences. “In babies’ development, they develop language as expression and comprehension. Comprehension is understanding of one’s surrounding and situation. In normal babies, by about six months, they have the situational understanding.

They react to signs learnt by them. As they mature, they learn a more complex language so that they are able to comprehend in a mature way.”

Dr Wijesekera said that babies feel happy and secure when they are carried and cuddled. “Their psychological wellbeing is assured for the better development of their moods and cognitive functions. It is best to assure the security of these babies with simple gestures, hugs and cuddles,” she said.

Asked if teaching sign language to preverbal babies will benefit them in later years, she said, “Preverbal babies communicate by crying, gestures and smiles to share their thoughts with the parents or the caregiver. If you reply them in a way they understand, i.e: verbally or gestures to reassure them, they will improve their language and social development.

She said that studies had shown that sign language speeds up speech development, reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves before they know how to talk, increases parent-child bonding, and lets babies communicate vital information, such as if they are hurt or hungry. It helps in better development not only the speech, but also the psycho social aspects and cognitive functions of a child. Also the frustration in a child who is, otherwise, unable to communicate, will be alleviated.”

Since many pre-schools abroad have begun to teach sign language to their children, asked whether there was such a move in this direction in Sri Lanka, Dr Wijesekera said, “In Sri Lanka there isn’t an initiative of that sort. It all depends on the ages and abilities of children in the pre-schools. For example, if the child of 3-5 years is verbal and able to express themselves, the necessity for this initiative many not be valid. However, if the age is younger (play group), children with speech delays may benefit.”