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This one is about: Using Sign Language to Assist with Speech Development

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A parent asks:

I have another question about Jordyn's speech. Do you know if a greater percentage of cleft palate patients have difficulty in speech? I know this should have been a question for the team but it is so busy there and I don't feel like I should take up any more of their time. Stupid isn't it as that's what they're there for. There is only one cleft L/P clinic in all the Maritime provinces. I know that from where you live it is hard to imagine the distance that I am talking about but it is great. I know the book 'Baby Gestures'(?) was mentioned on a post and I was wondering what you thought of it.

Joanne Green responds:

Yes - speech is a real concern. Receptive as well as expressive language can be affected by cleft. If the child has hearing problems - and especially if it is variable hearing loss (sometimes more pronounced than other times) then it is hard for the child to know exactly what is said around them. Kids with recurring ear infections often have variable hearing loss and therefore problems with receptive, as well as expressive language.

Adding to the hearing issue, kids with cleft simply have a different structure to work with. Before the palate is repaired, the structure is so different that intelligibility is almost impossible. With it repaired, you often have an inflexible palate, or a palate that is too short, or fistulae - - not to mention misaligned teeth. All of this takes a toll.

The kinds of speech problems we see resulting from structural differences may include articulation errors (an inability to make certain sounds) and nasality (escape of air through the nose while talking).

And so, a child with a variable hearing loss, plus a very different oral structure may be frustrated when trying to learn the very complex skill of oral communication. Some become very quiet (strong silent types), some act out (behavioral problems), some just keep right on jabbering whether anyone understands them or not (jabber-jaws) and some learn ways of compensating. Jacob was the Jabber-jaw type, and that resulted in a stutter. He STILL talks way too fast, and we often have to make him stop, slow down, and try again. Joey was a strong-silent type. He rarely made any noise at all, but when he did, it was clear and intelligible.

Sign language cannot hurt a child at all. There is NO documentation anywhere that indicates that it can, and TONS of documentation that shows that it helps. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with incorporating sign language with spoken language to help your child develop speech. It gives her a means by which she can control her environment through communicated thought, and it helps to open the neural pathways for communication while she learns how to use her oral structure.

You can start by identifying some nouns that are important to her - - Milk, for instance (hold your hand up in front on you, in a fist shape, thumb on top and squeeze - like the motion of a farmer milking a cow) - - or cracker (bend the elbow and use the opposite hand to touch the bent elbow - fingers in a C shape) and a few pertinent verbs - - eat (fingertips of one hand to the mouth); potty (shake a fist in a "t" position - for toilet); or sleep (hands together, up to side of head, lean  head in direction of hands - indicating resting your head on a pillow). and some very useful words - More (fingertips of both hands together); No (thumb, index finger and middle finger brought together and apart twice) or finished (both hands in the air to either side of the head, palms out, hand open, and shake).

That is a good start - add new signs as she masters those - be sure and add signs that are important to HER. It doesn't do much good to learn the sign for "horse", for instance, if she never sees a horse.

I am not personally familiar with the book you mentioned, but I have heard some great things about it.


*Note: Please look at the Cleft-Link file called Resources for Sign Language for more information on Sign Language.

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