gesticulate (je-STIK-yuh-leyt):

verb. /dʒɛˈstɪkyəˌleɪt/
1. to make or use gestures, esp. in an animated or excited manner with or instead of speech.
2. to express by gesturing.

After my last post I had a some comments via Twitter (Thanks @speechreka). I thought I would answer with my experiences and also add a dash of food for thought that came up on Twitter last week.

One comment was “I’d love to see something on good, useful first signs to teach.” I started with one or two signs that worked in different settings. It is important, however, to find highly motivating communicative signs – surrounding food, for instance. ‘Milk’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘more’, etc. This was true of my typically developing infant and when I use it for severe autism or similar non-verbal children. I think whatever sign is most motivating (and used for requesting) is key. I don’t think it matters WHICH sign, as long as the child would be motivated to use it to attempt to get something they want. Once a child recognizes the power of communication (through sign or speech), more communicative attempts and attention to language is almost inevitable.

This is where it gets tempting to use ‘more’ all on it’s own:

1) there is almost always an immediate response to using the ‘more’ sign (you get more of whatever you have been offered – food, game, book, etc) which makes it very rewarding in a well set-up situation.
2) it’s easy to model for the child and to help the child do hand-over-hand – some signs are not as easy to do hand over hand or are more complicated generally in their fine motor requirements. However, I always accept sign approximations, obviously, just as I would accept verbal approximations (e.g. “ba” for ball, bottle, or bath).

I admit that I HAVE used ‘more’ all on it’s own to attempt to have a child realize the power they can possess by actively communicating. Apparently that may not be the best course of action! Interestingly, only the day before my post, this conversation occurred on Twitter:

Food for thought. I have always been aware, in the back of my mind, that ‘more’ on it’s own is not helpful unless it is used in specific instances. Sometimes a child WILL attempt to request something out of the blue with ‘more’ and the logical question of the caregiver is: more what?

Obviously it’s not so clear cut about using ‘more’ as a first sign and can get you into some potential pitfalls. Please keep that in mind if you do introduce ‘more’ into a child’s sign (or spoken) repertoire and think carefully about when and why you are introducing it. If you do introduce it before the child can make 2-word combinations, be sure you have an ‘exit plan’ of sorts to ensure there isn’t overuse/overgeneralization that can lead to a communicative attempt that doesn’t communicate anything tangible!

I’d welcome any further thoughts, ideas and comments!


5 comments on “gesticulate (je-STIK-yuh-leyt):

  1. Heather says:

    The overgeneralized word/sign I wish people would stop teaching is “please”. It makes me nearly insane to work on more functional speech with one little girl, as she has so over-learned “please” that it’s all she uses. I know that it’s important to a lot of parents, but I teach the parents that we can work on manners in other ways, because please is just not functional by itself.

    I’ve used “more” a lot. But I’ve never had a problem with it being overgeneralized. I guess, like you, I tend to pair it as soon as is possible.

    • slptanya says:

      Hi Heather,

      Thanks for your comment! I am inclined to agree with that. Manners are socially important to parents, so I see why they want children do it, but the functionality is more or less nil if you don’t have enough other words. I wonder if parents are focussed on it when language delayed children are in our offices because their friends use manners – but parents forget that those friends went through other developmental steps before they were ready to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

      I know we added please and thank you to my daughter’s sign repertoire early-ish, but she had at least 10-15 signs before we added it. I’d say it’s only now, at 2-6, that she is only recently using those polite words unprompted by us! So that was a long delay between words (sign or spoken) and consistent use of ‘manners’!

  2. speechreka says:

    Thanks for responding to my suggestion Tanya. I know a popular language development program beginning with H, has been reported to be against teaching ‘more’ as a first lexicon. I quite like ‘more’ as a functional early word/sign for a child who is non verbal. It’s easy to sign and it’s nice and easy and visual for production. It also gets a message across. I’m against ‘more please’ as a two word utterance as I think the ‘please’ there is a complete waste of time if the child isn’t adding an object or action to the initial modifier. In this light I think our next topic of interest should be building a first lexicon, and what words we should teach first 🙂

  3. ~Mike~ says:

    I like “more” a lot with the populations that I work with, however I stress to my parents a few key points for it’s use. First, the child must communicate what it is that s/he wants to initiate the use of “more.” Just saying “more” without a clear referent is not social communication. With some children this means spontaneously producing the name of a desired item; with others it’s pointing or responding to prompts. Also, very early on its use is correlated with another word, be it the specific item (e.g. more ball), a nicety (e.g. more please), or another directive or descriptive word (e.g. want more, no more, more blue, etc) and parents are taught to provide choices frequently to make this requirement a natural aspect of the communication. In this way we’re able to stress more typical, functional language use without overburdening and frustrating early/delayed language users (too much).

    • slptanya says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mike! I like your idea to mix the formal sign ‘more’ with pointing or some other informal gesture, so it doesn’t preclude those who haven’t mastered the sign/word from communicating more specifically than just ‘more’. I also like ‘no more’ in the same way that I like ‘all done’. I think it’s important to give children the chance to refuse in different ways! Choice is a great way to get children and parents communicating and exploring more options.

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