How does Key Word Sign help?

Communication is a fundamental human need and right. We can all get quite frustrated if we can’t get our message across to other people, and can feel anxious and a bit isolated if we can’t understand what someone is saying to us.

Speaking is one of the hardest things that people learn to do! It’s the result of a rapid and precise series of movements, involving the tongue, teeth, jaw, palate, larynx (voice box), and coordinating all of that with the flow of air. We can use a lot of words to communicate, and we often say them quite fast. Adults with a disability and children with delays or disabilities can find it very difficult to produce and/or understand speech. Many of these people may use some speech but not very clearly, and many may have trouble understanding more than very simple language.

We all use natural gesture while we speak and this adds meaning and clarity to the message we are sending. People with communication problems understand what is said more easily when we use gestures because the gestures help to “translate” the words they hear. But there is a limit to what we can communicate with gestures. Using signs as well as natural gesture means we can use our hands to communicate about more things, and be more specific. When people with unclear speech use signs when they talk, their speech can be more easily understood. When the people talking to them use signs at the same time, their message is clearer and easier to understand.

Children with communication delays often have things they want to communicate but no way to do that successfully. The only thing they have left is crying, tantrums and difficult behaviour! Many adults with intellectual and other disabilities have learned some Key Word Sign (KWS) at school. They need the staff in adult services to know KWS, so they can be understood when they use it, and so they can learn more signs that would help them communicate about a broader range of topics. Both children and adults who can benefit from KWS need the people in their lives – family, friends, teachers, support staff, to learn and use KWS with them for this communication support to be of benefit.

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