Manual Sign Acquisition in Children with Developmental Disabilities


Nicola Grove, PhD (Editor)
Tizard Centre, University of Kent, United Kingdom, UK

Kaisa Launonen, PhD (Editor)
Department of Psychology & Logopaedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland

Series: Languages and Linguistics
BISAC: MED105010

Manual signs are used worldwide to support the communication and language development of children who have developmental disabilities. This book provides an overview of forty years of research and practice by recognised experts, from a developmental perspective. Uniquely, the book includes contributions on both sign languages and sign systems, linking the two fields of Deaf studies and Augmentative and Alternative Communication which have historically been seen as separate. This text is the most authoritative single text to date on the topic, providing an invaluable resource for speech pathologists, researchers, psychologists and educators.

The main sections of the book include: the typical development of sign language and of gesture; literature reviews on sign acquisition in children with disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, Llandau Kleffner syndrome and deaf blindness. An important chapter deals with the latest research on sign language impairments in deaf children with developmental language difficulties, or autism spectrum disorders. The third section of the book addresses assessment and intervention, covering vocabulary, sign production difficulties and intelligibility, grammar and multi-signing, and pragmatics and discourse skills.

The final two sections are concerned with use of signs in context: in the home, in school, and in different cultures. Throughout, care is taken to ensure that the voices of users are present and vivid, whether these be family members, teaching staff or the children themselves, with an entire chapter given over to an interview with a young adult’s reflections on her use of sign since childhood. The book concludes with a call for a multimodal perspective on augmentative communication to be adopted in the future.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Signing in the Margins: An Introduction
(Nicola Grove and Kaisa Launonen, Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Canterbury, England, and others)

Chapter 2. Manual Signing and Psycholinguistics
(Filip Loncke, Curry School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia, USA)

Chapter 3. More Than Words: Gestures in Typically Developing Children and in Children with Autism
(Laura Sparaci, Francesca Romana Lasorsa and Olga Capirci, Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ISTC), National Research Council of Italy, Rome, Italy, and others)

Chapter 4. Acquiring Signed Languages as First Languages: The Milestones of Acquisition and the Form of Early Signs
(Richard P. Meier, Department of Linguistics, University of Texas at Austin, US)

Chapter 5. Sign Acquisition in Down Syndrome: Longitudinal Perspectives
(Kaisa Launonen, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland)

Chapter 6. Sign Acquisition and Development by Hearing Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
(John D. Bonvillian, Department of Psychology and the Program in Linguistics, University of Virginia, US)

Chapter 7. Sign Language Development in Deaf Children with Language Impairments and Autism Spectrum Disorders
(Rosalind Herman, Aaron Shield and Gary Morgan, School of Health Sciences, City, University of London, England, and others)

Chapter 8. Bilingual, Bimodal Development of Signed and Spoken Language in Twins with down Syndrome
(Bencie Woll and Nicola Grove, Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, University College, London, England, and others)

Chapter 9. The Place of Sign Language in Landau-Kleffner Syndrome
(Bencie Woll and Jechil Sieratzki, Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, University College London, England, and others)

Chapter 10. Sign Acquisition in Children Who Are Deafblind
(Gail Deuce and Steve Rose, School of Education, University of Birmingham, England, and others)

Chapter 11. Manual Signs and Graphic Symbols as Complementary Forms of Augmentative and Alternative Communication
(Stephen von Tetzchner, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway)

Chapter 12. Selecting, Developing and Supporting Key Word Sign Vocabularies for Children with Developmental Disabilities
(Leigha Dark, Elizabeth Brownlie and Karen Bloomberg, School of Allied Health, Australian Catholic University, North Sydney, NSW, Australia, and others)

Chapter 13. Assessment and Intervention for Problems in Sign Production
(Nicola Grove, Leigha Dark, Elizabeth Brownlie and Karen Bloomberg, Tizard Centre, University of Kent at Canterbury, England, and others)

Chapter 14. Multi-Sign Utterances by Children with Intellectual Disabilities: Patterns of Use, Assessment and Intervention
(Nicola Grove, Tizard Centre, University of Kent at Canterbury, England)

Chapter 15. Pragmatic Skills of Key Word Signers
(Nicola Grove, Tizard Centre, University of Kent at Canterbury, England)

Chapter 16. ‘Yes, No, Maybe’: A Call for a Paradigm Shift in Attitudes Towards Key Word Signing
(Charlotte Parkhouse and Gareth Smith, Speech and Language Therapist, Kent, England)

Chapter 17. Signing at Home
(Kaisa Launonen, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland)

Chapter 18. Signing in School
(Ellen Rombouts, Kieron Sheehy, Judith Buchanan-Mellon and Nicola Grove, ExpORL, KU Leuven at Leuven, Belgium, and ohers)

Chapter 19. Signing after School
(Lily Gayner, Elizabeth Gayner and Nicola Grove, Bath, England)

Chapter 20. Cultural Issues in Developing and Using Signs within the Makaton Language Programme in Different Countries
(Margaret Walker, Shelina Mitha and Carol Riddington, Camberley, Surrey, England)

Chapter 21. Developing Signalong Indonesia: Issues of Politics, Pedagogy and Perceptions
(Budiyanto and Kieron Sheehy, Department of Education, State University of Surabaya, Surabaya, Indonesia, and others)

Chapter 22. Looking Back, Looking Forward: Conclusions
(Kaisa Launonen and Nicola Grove, Department of Psychology and Logopaedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland, and others)



“For far too long, the role of manual signs in the language and communication development of children with developmental disabilities has been relegated to a position of ‘not quite sign’ and ‘not quite language’, veering between being seen as a ‘sub-type of augmentative and alternative communication, and an occasional position as a footnote in discussions of sign linguistics. The unique context of children with developmental disabilities who are acquiring language using manual signs has received little recognition. This textbook breaks the mold. Bringing together expert researchers and clinicians from a diverse range of backgrounds, it highlights not only the challenges faced by children with developmental disabilities, but also their communication achievements. It richly illustrates the theoretical insights and practice implications that can be gained when close attention is paid to the developmental process of language and communication development in this very special context. The active role of the language learner is celebrated and uniquely, the reader has an opportunity to hear the personal story of someone who has walked this path. For all those interested in language and language development, this text will provide much food for thought. It sets down a marker for future research and enriches our understanding of the importance of the individual and of the developmental process.” –  Martine Smith, Associate Professor, Clinical Speech & Language Studies , Trinity College Dublin; Former president of the International Association of Augmentative and Alternative Communication

“It is indeed time to bring signing out of the margins and to shed light on this rich medium of communication and learning. Nicola Grove and Kaisa Launonen have accomplished this through a comprehensive text with wide appeal – from scholars of language and languages to interventionists working with people who stand to benefit from a comprehensive appreciation of the role and benefits of signing.” –  Teresa Iacono, Ph.D. Professor of Rural and Regional Allied Health, La Trobe Rural Health School, College of Science, Health and Engineering, Melbourne Australia

“I am honored to write this endorsement for “Manual Sign Acquisition by Children with Developmental Disabilities.” This book is an indispensable addition to the growing body of work on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). The book not only provides an in depth overview of research and practice in the use of manual signs with individuals who present with a wide range of language learning disabilities. The book also courageously and innovatively presents a description of the synergies between two fields that have been traditionally antagonistic and seen as separate: Deaf studies and Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Too often professionals have had to choose between communication options that are artificially pitched against each other, e.g., manual signs versus aided communications. When in fact, manual signs, gestures and other unaided means of representation are an essential element of a full range of semiotic tools available to us, humans, in our constant search for connection and shared representation.” – Professor Gloria Soto Department of Special Education, and Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, San Francisco State University

“The editors, Grove and Launonen, and their contributors offer an important, alternative perspective to language and communication development in deaf and hearing children with additional disabilities. In particular, they emphasize the need for disabled children who use sign-based interventions to be placed in language-rich environments, using holistic and multimodal approaches to enable them to achieve their full communication potential. This book is a valuable tool for both parents and practitioners making decisions on how to maximize their children’s opportunities to become effective communicators.” –  Dr. Katherine Rowley, Deafness, Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre at University, College London and City, University of London

“I am delighted to see the publication of this book on such an important topic. Those who work with deaf children are noting that signers with additional needs present demands for a different range of skills in their teachers. This volume will be of great assistance to them.” – Rachel Sutton Spence PhD., Sign Language Studies department, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

“Bursting with evidence-based argument and scholarly debate, this is an exceptional volume of work. Nicola Grove and Klaus Launonen have brought together an international authorship of leading academics, researchers and practitioners in a shared enterprise to ‘lift the lid’ on manual signing across the spectrum of childhood disability. The logical organisation of subject matter, the rigorous examination of underlying theories, the critical review of research evidence and the numerous worked examples combine to bring this important text to life. The book cleverly separates sign language acquisition from intervention through sign, which ensures the distinctive address of each area. Divided into five parts, the book starts with ‘Language, sign & gesture’ before focusing on ‘Sign development in children with disabilities, which is followed by “Assessment and intervention’, ‘Home & school’ and finally ‘Working across cultures”. An early reference to a conversation between Socrates and his friend highlights the intrinsic value of gestural communication from the word go, which is maintained throughout. Psycholinguistic theory provides the foundations for later address of sign acquisition associated with various disability groups in a series of chapters dedicated to disability-type. The authors have managed to capture every angle of signing and gesture in the lives of children with disabilities and the result is an impressive text. As the reader navigates the narrative, through intervention processes, communication contexts, and diverse cultural influences, the reasons firing the authors’ pre-occupation is crystal clear – sign and gesture matter!” –  Karen Bunning, Ph.D. Reader in Developmental Disabilities, School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, UK

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