Communication Barriers

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Charlene-3 copy

Bridging the communication gap

Generally when we hear the words “Sign Language” we think of those with deafness; however another dimension to sign language is using it with those with communication barriers such as Aspergers, Autism, Apraxia, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Trauma and other speech and/or brain disorders such as Aphasia. American Sign Language (ASL) can be used as an effective means of communication; whether it is to bridge the gap between the verbal and non-verbal due to a disorder or for language development before babies have developed spoken language.


Aspergers (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. AS is a neurobiological disorder that is classified as one of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) Sign language often makes it easier for children to learn speech: The spoken language is complex as opposed to sign language being clearer cut and more simple. Research states there are “differential disturbances of left brain functions in autistic children and that signing may be processed in the right hemisphere” where we take in imagery. In children that are unable to speak using sign language allows a means of basic communication which is better then no communication at all.


Depression, anxiety, self injuring, and aggression are some of much anomalous behaviour that are associated with communication barriers and Autism and often stems from the inability to communicate with others. Signed speech (Teaching sign Language and speech at the same time) may stimulate verbal language skills as well as allow a person to communicate using signs. Sign language comes in many forms and in using signed English you use the same syntax as spoken language as opposed to using American Sign Language where the syntax would be different. For example in using Speech with Signed English you might say “It was nice to meet you” and in ASL syntax it would be “True nice meet you”. Verbal language is often accelerated by the use of sign language and speech simultaneously. Conversely with some Autistic children who are mentally retarded learning Signed Exact English (SEE) may be too difficult for them or not conducive to meaningful communication. Thus learning basic ASL may give them some communication skills.


Apraxia of speech is as a result of damage to the parts of the brain that control muscle movement. There are two primary types of speech Apraxia; one being acquired Apraxia and the other developmental Apraxia. Not always, but typically acquired Apraxia occurs in adults and may result from a head injury, stroke or other illness that affects the brain thereby causing impairment or loss of speech abilities. Developmental Apraxia (DAS) is present from birth in children. Some scientists are of the belief that DAS is a disorder connected to a child’s overall language development. To others the brain’s ability to send the proper signals to move the muscles involved in speech is the outcome of a neurological disorder.

Children of Apraxia typically resolve most of their problem with talking and can do so by working with a speech therapist who helps working on factors such as inflection and speed in a controlled manner. The disorder will still exist but they learn to speak in spite of it. Sign language is both rhythmic and visual, therefore providing the mutli sensory input needed in order to develop normal speech in those of Apraxia and it also assists in bridging the gap to verbal speech. Speech therapists often use visual tools, such as white boards, pictures and signs. Children with Apraxia receive many of the same social academic emotional, benefits as those children with other speech development disorders with the use of sign language. Sign language is considered a type of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and is used with adults with Apraxia to assist them in expressing themselves which may increase self worth and social interaction.

Patrick has Aspergers & uses ASL

My son Patrick is a very bright 11 year old that faces the daily challenge of ADHD and a learning disability: Recently he has also been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Because of all of this he has a great deal of anxiety. Due to the combination of Aspergers and ADHD he is not able to go to regular group sessions to help him over come his anxiety issues.

One recommendation given to me was to try to get him to focus on something that would keep his mind challenged, re-focus his brain and improve his eye contact such as sign language. The idea was to help him communicate even in higher stress times when he had a tendency to become non-verbal and withdrawn: Also it would allow him to “fidget” in a more constructive manner. With this in mind Patrick started lessons with Certified Sign Language Instructor, Charlene Slaats-Gray using the “ My Smart Hands” program.

Within 3 weeks of starting the “My Smart Hands” curriculum it was noticed by his classroom teacher, and the resource teachers that work with him, that Patrick was calmer and more focused on his lessons: That he was not as anxious and was fidgeting less in class. Also another important benefit is that It has helped him to feel more confident about trying to socialize with his peers; children his own age.

As his mother I am finding it a great new way to communicate with him. In his “teaching” me the signs it has helped his confidence grow and has also given him a sense of achievement and therefore providing him with a great tool to help redirect his stress and frustration.

After 4 years of trying to find help for Patrick we now have found the perfect tool for him to use that will be benefit him throughout his life in many different ways.