Lost Voice Guy – more about the communication aid he uses and what they are

Lost Voice Guy – more about the communication aid he uses and what they are

Lost Voice Guy

Lee Ridley, known as ‘Lost Voice Guy’, is the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent… and also the first communication aid user to win!  Lost Voice Guy may not “speak”, but he certainly has a voice –  sharing his experiences of cerebral palsy and communication aid use in his comedy, and discussing the representation of disabled people in the media.

This may be one of the first times you’ve seen a communication aid used by someone in the public eye – apart from Stephen Hawking.  Lee Ridley’s BBC Radio 4 sitcom ‘Ability’ amusingly shows just how frequently he hears that comparison, as people’s only cultural reference point for someone who uses a communication aid.  You might therefore be surprised that around one in two hundred people use some form of aid to help them communicate (also called “augmentative and alternative communication”, or AAC) (Blackstone 1990).   Lee Ridley, and American sitcom “Speechless”, may be the first tentative steps towards more accurate media representation.



Apart from Lost Voice Guy who needs a communication aid, and why?

Communication aids, or AAC, are used by children and adults who have difficulty using spoken language (and sometimes with understanding language too) for a wide range of reasons.  Some will have needed additional methods of communication from childhood, such as those with cerebral palsy, autism, or many other developmental or learning disabilities.  Others may need to use additional methods to communicate following a brain injury, stroke, cancer, or a neurological disease such as Motor Neurone Disease.  These are just some of the causes of communication difficulties, and having one of these diagnoses does not mean that person will definitely require a communication aid.

The potential power of a communication aid is immense:

“My aid has enabled me to live independently in my own home, employ my own care staff, set up my own business (self-employed), earn enough to come off means-tested benefits, earn enough to buy my next new AAC device soon.”

Scope’s “No voice, no choice” Communication Aids Survey respondent, 2007


Always so technologically advanced?

Not at all… AAC, or communication aids, are anything ‘extra’ that helps communication.

We don’t just communicate using spoken words.  Watch just a few of Lost Voice Guy’s videos  and you’ll see a wealth of facial expressions, gestures, not to mention comic timing.  All this would be lost if you were just listening to the voice synthesiser only.  Communication aids are frequently used alongside speech, gestures or signing.  Speech and Language Therapists sometimes refer to this as ‘total communication’, supporting the person to use a wide range of communication methods to get their message across in the best way possible for the person and situation.  In the BGT final, Lost Voice Guy made a joke out of how cumbersome communication aid use can be, by typing a response ‘good’ to David Walliams over the course of a comic 20 seconds (complete with ‘thinking’ pause and gesture).  Sometimes a simple ‘thumbs up’ is all that’s needed to get the message across!

A communication aid may consist of:

  • a gesture or signing system (such as Makaton or BSL, see our article for more info this area)
  • a symbol or picture-based system, mounted on a board, or in a book
  • alphabet or word boards or books
  • typing based systems (such as the Lightwriter system used by Lee Ridley)
  • A mix of some or all of the above!



MyChoicePad uses Makaton sign language and symbols


This is the Lightwriter system used by Lee


Communication aids can be controlled by pointing, using a keyboard or switches, or even small head or eye movements.  A person’s literacy skills and physical skills will be taken into account when considering what methods of communication will work best for them.

This clip shows the teens from sitcom “Speechless” demo-ing two different types (pointing with a headlight to a word board for someone to read vs. a computer system operated by eye movements), and discussing some of the pros and cons of different communication aids.

As personal as any method of communication

The way we talk is highly individual – from our accent and tone of voice, to the words, phrases and expressions we commonly use.  A communication aid should be as personal as this – an adult communication aid user will need a very different vocabulary to a child so they can join in with social chit-chat (“Kanye West” being a crucial omission from Lee Ridley’s http://lostvoiceguy.com/radioshowreel/), before you consider the specialised vocabulary an adult communication aid user might need in the workplace.

An accent is also a highly personal thing, Stephen Hawking was reluctant to change his when technological advances made it possible, saying “It has become my trademark and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent.”  However, Lee Ridley is not as attached to his, saying he’s going to spend some of his winnings on a Geordie accent for his communication aid so he doesn’t sound like ‘a posh version of Robocop’.

If this blog has inspired you to find out more about AAC, you could start by reading some of the personal experiences of using AAC here: http://www.everyonecommunicates.org/stories/individualstories.html

But let’s leave the last word to Lost Voice Guy.  Whilst this article celebrates the empowering nature of communication aids, the communication aid is not the star of this story, it’s Lee Ridley and his hilarious comedy:

“When I am performing, it’s as if I have finally found my voice – and it’s a great feeling making people laugh.”

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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7 reasons why short, simple sentences are best for language development

7 reasons why short, simple sentences are best for language development

Simplifying language

The language we use when we chat is complicated.  We don’t mean to, us adults just can’t help saying things in a more difficult way than we need to.

There’s an example: I could have said above “Adults use complex language”.  Instead of being clear and simple, I said the same sentence in two different ways, used a lot of emphasising phrases, and tricky grammar.  In fact, there were only three important words in that sentence in order for you to understand the gist of it – ‘adults’, ‘complex’, ‘language’.

Keeping language simple can help children understand and learn language.

Top 7 reasons short, simple sentences are the best – simplifying language

There are many reasons, short, simple sentences help our children:

simplfying language

  • My span of attention is short! If there is too much language before you get to the ‘point’, I’ve lost interest and moved on
  • When you say a sentence, I have to listen to lots of words and work out which bit of noise (word) matches the picture or toy you are talking to me about. The more words you say, the harder it is to work out which one means the same as this stripy animal (picture of a child looking at a zebra).
  • My understanding develops gradually. At two years old, I may only be able to understand two key words in a sentence at a time (see our language course for more information and games).  Don’t make all your sentences just two words long though – keep reading for why you should still include the grammatical words!
  • My memory is also still developing. If there’s too much language for me to remember in your sentence, I can’t understand it (or if you’ve given me an instruction, I can’t follow it)
  • Repetition helps me learn. If you’re using simple sentences, you are most likely to be using similar words or sentence structures each time (e.g. ‘the frog jumped’, ‘Sarah laughed’, ‘the cat miaowed’), and I will pick up on these patterns.
  • Silence is powerful. It gives me time to focus my own attention, think about what you’ve said, and think of what I can say back.
  • If we both have short turns, it’s more likely we’ll be taking equal turns, which leads to a more fun chat for both of us!

Here are some examples of instructions and information simplified to two different levels:

Tricky Why’s this hard? Medium Simpler
“You can’t have any ice-cream until you finish your peas” This sentence is actually made up of two parts, ‘you can’t have any ice-cream’, ‘you finish your peas’, joined with the connective ‘until’.  This increases both the memory load, and the grammatical complexity of the sentence.  The time concept ‘until’ is also difficult for young children to understand “Eat your peas, then you can have ice-cream” “Peas first, then ice-cream”

Or “Eat your peas”

“Make sure your library book is in your bag” If the book and bag aren’t right in front of your child, they have to remember two pieces of information for the time it takes to look for both items.  There’s a high chance they will get distracted, or forget one of the items. “Put your book in your bag” “Get your book” (pointing to the location of the book, then wait for your child to get the book).

“Find your bag”

“Put your book in the bag” (when both the book and the bag are in front of your child)


“Brush your teeth after you put your pyjama’s on”


In these examples the two steps in the instruction are actually in reverse order – you want the child to put their pyjama’s on first, then brush their teeth.  Watch out when using ‘before’ and ‘after’ with very young children. “Put your pyjamas on then brush your teeth” “Put your pyjamas on”

“Brush your teeth”



“Come on, hurry up and get your shoes on” Saying the same thing in 3 different ways gives your child three pieces of information to process.  If you need to repeat, say the same simple sentence again. “Get your shoes on” “Shoes on!”
“Oh no, the boy is being chased by the monster!”



This is a passive structure – look out for a ‘by’ sentence telling you who did the action.  Children are thought to understand these sentences around age 3-4 (Thatcher et al 2008). “The monster is chasing the boy!” “A monster!”

“A scary monster!”

“Poor boy!”


You don’t want to keep your language simple forever, take the lead from your child and use sentences that are a couple of words longer, or a bit more complex, than they are using themselves.  If they are chatting away, having conversations or telling you about what happened today at nursery or school, chat back!

Simple, but keep the grammar!

Keep your sentences grammatical.  Your child is learning language from you, so if you give them examples which do not contain the grammar they will eventually learn, you are not doing them any favours!  For example, it might be tempting for a child who is starting to join two words together who points to your face and says ‘glasses’ to model back ‘mummy glasses’, but this way your child is missing out on the grammatical information that helps them understand why the two words are used together – ‘they’re mummy’s glasses’ (Fey et al 2003).

Children have been found to listen out for the words we naturally stress in sentences to make sense of them and learn language.  If we take out the grammatical words, which will be less stressed (e.g. ‘they’re’ in the above example), we are left with two words only.  Your child will listen to which of these is most stressed and focus on this, so they may only focus on one word (Bedore and Leonard 1995).  Having the grammatical words around them makes the content words stand out even more!

Children also use the entire sentence structure to help them work out the role of a new word in the sentence, for example whether it is a key word or a grammatical word, whether it is the name of something or an action (Venker et al 2017 provide useful information on this).  As adults, the best thing we can do to help this language learning process is keep our sentences short but grammatical so our children can use their natural language learning strategies.

Venker et al 2017, “When Is Simplified too…Simple?”, available at https://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=2595617

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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Laurel or Yanny – and what it reveals about the listening process for children

Laurel or Yanny – and what it reveals about the listening process for children

Yanny or Laurel?  Isn’t listening to a single word meant to be child’s play?

Yes, it’s the latest viral sensation.  The game to play (and debate) with your colleagues, family and friends.  But how can two people listen to the same clip and hear two completely different words?  Scientists have put across their explanations (for example here and here), citing as reasons for the two different words heard similar frequencies of speech sounds, slightly unclear (or overlapping) audio material, and our brain hearing what it expects to hear.  But as well as being a fun social media sound experiment, it also gives us a chance to reflect on the listening process…

Hearing is not an all or nothing process involving just the ear. The processes involved in working out what the sound information means are many and complex (see our auditory processing article for more information).  This means that even if your child passes a hearing test with flying colours, they may still have trouble hearing the differences between sounds in words, or understanding words or sentences.

For example, some children with speech sound difficulties (but good hearing) may need practice to hear the difference between the sound they are learning and their error sound, so a child who says ‘ch’ as ‘sh’ may practice listening to pairs of words like ‘ship’ vs ‘chip’ before learning to say the ‘ch’ sound.  You may have heard speech sound difficulties called ‘phonological delay/disorder’, and listening games play a vital role in speech therapy.  In the yanny/laurel, we see how our brains can interpret sound information differently – even as adults who know all the speech sounds they are listening to!

There are very few situations in our lives when we are listening to words without background noise. We can take for granted what our brain is doing to screen this out.  The clip seems pretty high quality, yet the background noise is still thought to have an impact on our perception.  Will this prompt you to minimise background noise when talking to or playing with your child at home?  Turn off the TV or music during talking time to help them focus on your words.  Also, if someone you know wears a hearing aid, these amplify all noise including background noise, which can make it harder and more tiring to understand speech.

We fill in gaps, and hear what we expect to hear. Think about when you mishear song lyrics, then no matter how you try you can’t work out what the singer is actually saying (once you have heard “we built this city on sausage rolls” it’s hard to hear it as “rock and roll”…).  You only have to watch this fabulous clip from Peter Kay with Sister Sledge singing “Just let me staple the vicar”.

We use our previous experiences, the position of the word in the sentence, and the situation in which we hear the word or sentence to make sense of it.  If we had heard the clip in the sentence “I need to prune my yanny/laurel bush” we may all have heard laurel!  Encourage your child to ask if they haven’t heard you, and encourage older children to use clues to work out the most likely word for the context.  This is a great skill for children to try when they come across new words in their reading book.

So before you go home and debate with your other half whether it is obviously yanny/laurel, spare a thought for the hard work your child is doing whilst learning to listen and understand words, when we adults still don’t always hear the same thing!

Written by Alys Mather, Speech and Language Therapist

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Can grammar ever be fun? Our top 3 games

Can grammar ever be fun? Our top 3 games

The phrase ‘grammar fun’, for some of us, may seem like an oxymoron at best. The explicit approach to learning how to structure sentences may bring with it memories of tedious drills and the rote learning of rules.  However, for many of us, grammar will have been absorbed, through experimentation and correction, rather than through the digestion of endless rules. Whichever way we do it, we learn how to put words together in English so that they are meaningful. For children who struggle to do this, understanding others can be confusing and participating in conversations, a challenge. Many of these children will fall under a speech a language therapist’s radar and some will need some extra support internalising parts of the English grammar rule book.

Helping children use pronouns

Pronouns are important little words!  We use pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ to refer to people and objects without having to name them. In this article we will explore how to help your child use them correctly and take a look up a speech and language therapist’s sleeve for some fun activity ideas.

Understanding first

Before we can be expected to use something, we need to understand it. The activities below are therefore split in to two parts: games to aid understanding and games to help with production.

Learning to use new rules

When your child is first learning to sort out new rules, they will find it easier to focus on one rule at a time e.g. if working on ‘he’ and ‘she’ don’t worry if they make other errors e.g. ‘mixing up her/him’. It is likely that they will also find it easier to focus on shorter sentences when they start to say the words. You can model longer sentences for them but at the beginning, do not worry about them being able to copy you. As they become confident, they will start using the new rule in longer phrases, sentences and stories!


GAME 1 > ‘Me wants it’

Saying ‘me’ instead of ‘I’ can be quite cute when your child is very young, but if this continues past around the age of 2 years old, your child may benefit from some gentle guidance. Children generally learn to say ‘I’ correctly (around 1 – 2 years) before they master using ‘me’ correctly (around 2-2.5 years)


Using real or pretend food, plates, make a food order e.g. ‘I want the apple’. You can play with another adult or child and pretend you are in a cafe. Your child role plays the waiter/waitress or chef and must serve the food to the correct person. This will ensure that they receive lots of listening practice first.

Take turns to say what you would like to eat and see who can fill their plate first.

If your child says, ‘Me want the pear’, you can gently model the correct way e.g. ‘I want the pear’ and grab the pear and put it on your plate, emphasizing ‘I want it’.

Which hand is doing the good talking?
You can also give your child a chance to correct themselves by showing them both your hands closed in to fists. The first hand says, ‘I want’ and the second hand says, ‘me want’. Model the hands talking and then ask your child to hit the fist that is doing the ‘good talking’. If they tap the correct hand, spring it open and say repeat it back to them again ‘I want the…’ and then reward them with the food.

Game alternative – find silly ingredients for soup and collect as many silly things as you can. Who can make the silliest soup?

Most children will correctly use ‘he’ and ‘she’ by the time they reach 2.5 years of age.

*To work on your child’s understanding of ‘he’ and ‘she’, you can adapt the above game using a girl and boy doll or picture cut outs. Pretend the dolls are whispering to you what they want and then tell your child e.g. ‘he said he wants a pizza, do you have any pizza for him?’. See if your child can correctly place the food on the right plate. Offer feedback as your play e.g. ‘that is right, it is for the boy because I said ‘he’.

*Work on listening for the correct pronoun by telling a short story. The first time you tell the story, make no mistakes. The second time, make a few silly mistakes.

1). ‘Susie and Tom were playing catch. Susie ran to get the ball and she fell over and hurt her knee. Tom tried to help but he slipped up and hurt his elbow’

With Errors e.g.

2). ‘Susie ran to get the ball and he fell over’/ ‘Tom tried to help but she fell over!’

Tell your child that when they hear a mistake, they must shout ‘STOP!” and then tell you what the mistake is. If they can, ask them to repeat back the correct sentence: ‘Tom tried to help but he fell over’.

Remember the focus is on using ‘he’ and ‘she’ so don’t worry if your child makes mistakes with other parts of the sentence for now.

Act out the story –Using teddies, dolls or action figures, try acting out the story and practicing ‘he’ and ‘she’ using the characters. If it is not clear which one is a girl or boy, you could put an identifying item of clothing on them e.g. blue hat

Make the story visual – laminate a picture of a boy and a girl and as you tell the story, colour in red the part of the body they hurt when they fall over. You could even repeat the story again but this time put plasters on the characters!.

*When your child is ready to practice saying ‘he and she’, you can make the dolls do things e.g. jump, run, sleep and say, ‘Who is jumping?’. Model the answer ‘she is’ or ‘he is’ then ask your child to continue by shouting out. You can practice longer phrases this way to by asking ‘what is the doll doing?’ and modelling ‘she is running/he is eating’.

*Additionally, your child could give you the food orders for the boy and girl, like in the game above. ‘he wants chips, she wants ice cream’

*Try supporting story making skills using the story structure above. If you are using laminated cut outs, simply wipe the laminated pictures clean or use two new fresh ones. The level of support here will depend on how confident your child is at this stage, but you can support them as needed throughout the story and prompt them using the pictures, pointing out the blood/ plasters on the boy and girl. For more ideas offering feedback to support language, see our blog on speech and language blog one



Pronouns can be tricky to learn and using ‘his’ and ‘her’ is no different. Children will often have mastered this by around 3.5, but if extra support is needed you could try some of the following ideas.

*Tell a story like the one above, focusing on the words her and his. This will provide lots of focused listening. Again, you can ask your child to shout STOP! When they hear a mistake (you mix up ‘her’ and the ‘his’). Remember, at the listening stage they do not have to provide the correction but can if they wish! Once they have identified the mistake, you can simply model the correct way e.g. ‘Silly me, Susie is a girl, so it is her knee, not his knee!’

*colour, draw or put cut out clothing on pictures of a girl and boy. Your child must listen to you e.g. colour her shoes blue, draw a hat on his head,

*You can get even more listening practice by putting different objects in baskets belonging to the girl and boy doll or the cut-out pictures e.g. ‘put the ball in his basket, put the dress in her basket’

*The activities above will be familiar to your child and therefore provide a good starting point for them to practice using the correct production of ‘her’ and ‘his.

They can start by sorting out objects for the boy and girl and telling you what they have done, ‘I put the ball in her basket’.

*Prompt them to describe pictures to you e.g. You ‘Whose shoes are blue?’ Child: ‘her shoes’

If they are feeling confident, they may even wish to tell you a story like the one used above!

The ideas above provide a starting point for working on some areas that your child might find tricky. Feel free to adapt and expand on these as much as you wish, remembering that listening and understanding come before accurate production. For more information on grammar  in general and supporting word order, check out colourful semantics blog.  If you would like even more specific guidance on how to support the development of pronouns, see our higher language course.

Have lots of grammar fun!

Our top 4 apps for grammar fun

There are some excellent apps to support working on pronouns. Take a look:

TOP PICKS Price range from around 2 – 5 pounds.

Pronouns with splingo  


Pronouns by Teach Speech Apps


Using I and Me Fundeck


Story builder for iPad – This app supports many aspects of your child’s language. Can help reinforce pronouns once your child is has mastered them at the phrase and sentence level.


Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

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12 YouTube Videos for Teaching Speech, Language and Communication Skills

12 YouTube Videos for Teaching Speech, Language and Communication Skills

YouTube – teaching through video in less than 5 minute ‘bites’!

Free training!

Video is the perfect medium to teach parents and education staff signs to use with children to help their communication development.  Many of the signs we use to help can be found on YouTube:

Makaton  Their YouTube channel has videos of their signs of the week to keep your skills fresh (see ‘signing’ blog post for more information about using signs to support language development)

Cued articulation is often used with children with speech sound difficulties.  If your child is using this in therapy sessions, you might like to look up the signs on YouTube to remind yourself how to make them.  Jane Passy explains about Cued Articulation here

Songs and Rhymes

Toddlers and pre-school children will get the most out of the videos when you watch and join in with them.  YouTube is a huge library of action songs and videos, so if your child comes home from nursery singing ‘dingle dangle scarecrow’ you can learn how to join in with them here.

Singing hands  sing and sign lots of popular nursery rhymes and songs if you need inspiration for a new song to share with your child visit them.

Our article ‘make time to rhyme and sing’ has tips on how you can make the most of rhyme time to boost your child’s communication skills.

Think back to the way you first learnt the alphabet, or the colours of the rainbow – does a song or a rhyme pop into your head?  Calvert (2009) found that songs improved adults and children’s memory of content presented in a song compared to when the information was spoken.  Videos that are engaging to children may make them more likely to want to hear the content again and again (helping them to learn it), and you can find a number of YouTube videos with songs or rhymes about anything your child may need to practice, such as…

Opposites :

Check out this video on opposites

And this one!

The same study also found that it is important to check your child’s understanding of information learnt through song, and talk about it together in different activities and situations, so if you learn about opposites using those songs, you could then practice sorting toy animals into big vs small animals, or talk about big and small when you are sorting out the washing.


Young children practicing a sound might benefit from these videos from Ring Card phonics (plus they give adults some handy examples of words beginning with target sounds they can then use in games):



Songs that have lots of your child’s target sound can also be good to listen to, for example if your child is learning the ‘f’ sound then this ‘fee fi fo fum’  song from Jack and the Beanstalk would be good listening practice! http://www.songsforteaching.com/speechtherapy/ has more examples of songs you could look up on YouTube containing a whole range of different speech sounds.


Pixar, Disney, and a few of the other animation companies have produced ‘shorts’ which are beautifully animated, often wordless video stories.  These are great for working on language and social communication targets with school-aged children.  Two of my favourites are:

Mouse for Sale


These can be used in a whole range of ways:

  • Pause the story and guess what might happen next
  • Your child could provide a ‘voiceover’ to the story, or dialogue for the characters
  • The characters are full of personality, so provide a good opportunity to practice descriptive language when describing the characters
  • Talk about the emotions in the story
  • Suggest an alternative ending for the story
  • Summarise the ‘moral’ of the story

Social skills

YouTube has cartoons and stories designed to teach children desired social behaviours, either explicitly:

Keep your hands to yourself

Or through suggestion:

My no no no day’, teaching that some days you might feel tired, sad and grumpy, but the next day you might feel better again!

YouTube is a massive resources, and these examples just skim the surface.  Please share with us via social media and tag us @Iris_Speaks  with the hashtag #YTSLT your top YouTube videos for developing communication skills.  Remember, your child will get the most out of any videos when you join in watching with them, and talk about the videos together.

Please check all external content, including YouTube videos, before using these with your child.  Whilst these videos were approved at the time of writing this post, content on YouTube and links may change.  Inclusion in this blog does not imply endorsement of the creator or poster of the videos.  YouTube contains adds prior to videos which may not be suitable for your child to watch.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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Will using sign language impact on my child’s ability to speak words?

Will using sign language impact on my child’s ability to speak words?

What is sign language?

We all use sign language. We nod our heads in agreement or shake them in disagreement, we wave hello and wave goodbye, sign thanks to kind drivers that let us go and refrain from signing anything to those who don’t! When we visit a country where we don’t know the spoken language, we rely on signs to communicate, remain courteous or order from a menu.

Many of us already use lots of signs with our children. We may have signs for animals, different foods and so on. Using signs, supports every day conversations and for our children it can act as an important bridge towards developing more spoken words.

All languages, whether Mandarin, English, Korean, French or British Sign Language use symbols to represent the world around us. There are different types of sign and symbol systems.  The ones you may have heard of or have seen in schools are:

  • Makaton – is a language programme that uses symbols alongside sign language to represent key words with nearly 40 years of evidence backed research on it’s effectiveness in encouraging speech and communication skills. It’s used by over 100,000 people across the UK. Many schools use this to help hearing children develop spoken language. When using Makaton, the signer speaks alongside signing. This encourages the development of spoken language. Often once spoken language develops or increases the signs naturally fade out.


  • British Sign Language – is an official language used amongst the deaf community. Unlike Makaton, it has its own grammar rules. It is not commonly used alongside the spoken word.


  • Sign Supported English (SSE) – Follows English language grammatical structures. Putting sentences together is therefore much more intuitive for English speakers as opposed to learning another set of grammatical rules. Although the grammar rules are different from BSL, SSE uses the BSL signs. Many schools use this to support language learning for deaf and hearing children.


  • Paget Gorman (PGSS) – is a signed alongside speech and used in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Like the other sign systems, it supports learning for all children and especially those who struggle with language or following directions in the classroom.

There are other types of sign language too such as American Sign, Australian sign language…every single country has a different sign language – there is no universal sign language and even from region to region it can vary in dialect.

Will using sign language impact on my child’s ability to speak words?

This is a common concern, however, for children who are going to be verbal, learning sign language does not hinder their potential. Think of a baby who has not yet developed language. Caregivers use gesture regularly from the day babies are born. We wave hello and goodbye to them before they know these words, we may even have gestures for key words in songs. Some parents teach their babies ‘baby sign’ so they can start communicating using their hands before their language develops. In normal circumstances these babies then go on to develop language, the gestures/signs merely support this journey.

Why sign?

Using sign can benefit children whether or not they have a speech and language delay.

Supports learning in the classroom
Signing or gesture helps all children in the classroom and particularly those who struggle understanding verbal language. It can aid their ability to follow directions and is instrumental in reducing anxiety and increasing participation. Think about being in the foreign country again and interacting with locals to get directions back to your hotel. By following the hand gestures of the locals, you can safely make your way.  Yay for sign!

Enriches vocabulary
When a word is heard and seen, children tend to recall the word more easily, leading to better vocabularies. Providing a sign for the word gives them another hook to hang the meaning on to.

‘Language and imagery are inseparable’ (David Mcneill 2005)
Gestures and signs are visual aids. If we understand gestures to be interlinked with speaking, then sign language is just a more structured way to elaborate on these gestures.  Creating strong images for words is immensely useful for little language learners. Using gesture or signs with speech also slows down the pace of your speech – making it easier for little ears and brains to digest and process information.

Signing supports children who are struggling to develop language
Signs can bridge the gap between having no meaningful communication and speaking. For children who are finding it hard to use words, signing can reduce frustrations, increase participation and learning and increase communication confidence. For some children, using sign successfully can lead to the development of verbal communication.

Extra facts

It is thought that learning sign language may boost cognition by as much as 50 percent! (John Medina 2010)

Vocabulary development comes on leaps and bounds when little fingers master fine motor control. Signing is a good way to support this!

From around 9 months of age, typically developing children can start to learn language using sign.  ‘Baby Sign’ has become very popular in recent years.  Parents who wish to can attend sign classes with their baby and start communicating with them before verbal language develops.

If we view sign language as an extension of verbal language rather than something separate from it, we start to see it as an integral part of the language learning process. Signing can make activities like singing songs, requesting objects and naming things in the environment much more interesting, engaging and fun!

Video copyright The Makaton Charity

Check out the Makaton sign for lamb above! To see more Makaton signs if you’ve got an iPad check out the MyChoicePad app

Visit https://singinghands.co.uk/ for fun Makaton classes, sessions and resources.

Singing Hands also have some fantastic videos of popular nursery rhymes using Makaton signs that you can watch with your child

Check out this week’s Makaton Sign of the Week! https://wetalkmakaton.org/

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

Iris Speaks – Access the UK’s best Speech and Language Therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week. Online and at home. Book an initial consultation.

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