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Autism Speaks

For every book sold, $3 is donated to Autism speaks. When a child speaks the first word, it is memorable, but if a parent never hears the first word, it is most memorable.

Year Two- Post 14 | Benefits of Sign Language and Second Language

Cognitive flexibility is when learners understand that they are being presented with different  representation of the same information, but in a different context. In other words, learners must be flexible in their  understanding of a topic and be able to apply it in different areas. If a child looks at the sign language “sign” for water and hears the word, he understands  that both the sign and the word represent water. There are three easy ways to  increase your child’s cognitive flexibility.

1) Sign language gives a concrete base to language. You can see the sign that is being made. Remember, words are abstract; you can’t see, hear, taste, touch or smell a word.  Signing gives a visual clue as to what word you are using.  Words need to be associated with an object or activity to give the word meaning.  If the child sees the sign and hears the word, this is an added benefit of using two of the senses – it provides the child with more information.  It also encourages cognitive flexibility.  The child is able to process that a sign and a word stand for the same object or activity. It is a “brain booster.”  Signing also helps the child to focus and pay attention, which will make it easier for the child to grasp the meaning of words more quickly. Eventually the child will imitate the signs – and this will benefit him when his muscles (all 80 of them) haven’t matured, and he wants to communicate.  It will reduce frustration for both the parent and child to let the child sign his basic wants and needs until he has further matured physically.  Speech intelligibility is around 60 percent at the age of two, so signing will augment his communication attempts.

2)  Learning a second language in the home will also teach your child that two words spoken differently can mean the same thing.  This can increase a child’s cognitive flexibility, which applies to the concept that more than one word can represent an object.  This can be a brain booster, but it is only relevant if the caregivers are speaking the language in the home or the child’s school.  Memory is important in learning a language, and if the child is not regularly speaking and comprehending the second language, eventually she will forget the words and rules of that foreign language.  The most important aspect of learning any language is to read, talk and experience  stimulating activities to enhance your child’s development.

3) Another way to increase your child’s cognitive flexibility is to use adjectives and adverbs while speaking to your child.  When you say, “The big, fluffy, white dog is cute,” you are teaching your child that more than one word is being used to describe the dog. This is also a brain booster.

So, be creative in the use of language to increase those neurons in your child’s brain!  If you need some ideas, refer to My Baby Compass, Birth to Two, Two to Four, or Four to Seven.

–          Kathryn Thorson Gruhn, MA CCC-SLP, author of My Baby Compass series

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