Written by Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Natalie Elias
We live in a digital age where communication is just a click away. Advances in technology have allowed us to be more connected than ever before, with a variety of devices at our disposal. The possibilities can seem endless with so many voice output devices and apps on the market, which are hugely beneficial for people with communication difficulties. But where does this leave our other communication tools? And what happens when technology fails?
A ‘total communication’ approach means using different communication systems depending on the situation. Just as we might choose to text or call, to write a letter or an email, we need multiple tools in our ‘communication toolbox’ to suit a person’s needs and the message they want to share. It is not a case of which tool is best, but rather what is the most powerful and effective method for each situation.
Key Word Sign, formerly known as Makaton, is a simplified form of manual signing and a highly effective form of communication. It builds upon natural gesture and body language, which forms so much of how we communicate day-to-day.
In Australia we borrow from the signs of Auslan, the language of the Australian deaf community. Key Word Sign may be used with both children and adults, and can benefit communicators who have difficulties with attention, comprehension and/or developing speech.
The main principles of Key Word Sign are:
- Sign and speech go together
- Speak in regular, complete sentences
- Sign only the key words in your sentence e.g. “Do you want to play?”
- Use facial expression and body language to add meaning
- Teach signs that are relevant and interactive to allow the communicator to comment, question, request, protest and share their feelings and opinions
The benefits of Key Word Sign include:
- Provides visual information alongside speech, which can assist visual learners
- Lasts longer than speech, which can assist communicators who need more time to process information
- Encourages a good language model where we slow our speech rate, simplify what we say and emphasise the most important words
- Increases opportunities for successful interactions, as signs are easier to produce than speech
- Promotes the extension of language skills while speech is still developing
- Reduces frustration, as communicators have a tool for expressing their needs
It only takes one sign and a willing communication partner to get started with Key Word Sign, though it’s important to make sure you create a signing environment.
You can do this by:
- Choosing to use signs that are going to be powerful, motivating and allow the communicator to interact in different settings
- Modelling sign in all parts of your day. Communicators will not use sign if they don’t see it being used in real life
- Creating opportunities to sign. Try to offer choices, make some deliberate mistakes and keep items of interest in sight but out of reach. Most importantly, make sure you pause to allow the communicator to have a turn
- Accept any attempts to sign, and keep the communication positive and rewarding
Interested in learning Key Word Sign?
Therapy Focus offers workshops for people who are interested in learning the basics of Key Word Sign. For more information contact us today or visit our Events page to register for upcoming workshops.
For more information about how our therapists can support people with communication difficulties, click here.
Other helpful resources:
- Auslan Signbank – a language resources site for Auslan.
- Getting Started with Key Word Sign – a starter vocabulary book for people learning to use Key Word Sign.
- Key Word Sign Australia app – allows you to print signs from interactive vocabularies, create sign dictionaries and visuals and to view videos of how to produce a sign. Available on iPad only.