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VARYING Communication skills with Autism. Kimberly Cunningham Tech Center -New Visions Education. Introduction. The purpose of this study is to find the relationship between Sign Language and children with Autism.

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varying communication skills with autism

VARYING Communication skills with Autism

Kimberly Cunningham

Tech Center -New Visions Education

  • The purpose of this study is to find the relationship between Sign Language and children with Autism.
  • And whether or not Sign Language helps students with autism communicate and learn how to speak.
  • Communication with others is key in the process of learning.
  • Sign Language can help to advance children with Autism in their communication with others.
thesis statement
Thesis Statement
  • What is the relationship between Sign language and children with Autism?
my hypothesis
My Hypothesis

I think that Sign Language does help students with Autism or any disability communicate with others.

general information
General Information
  • It has been said that “Sign Language has done so much in the way of communicating with others.”
  • According to a study using Sign Language would be very beneficial. “Since verbal and non-verbal communication impairments are a core feature of Autism, there is a steady interest in teaching Sign Language to autistic people who have limited speech or have failed to develop speech.”

(National Autism Resources, n.d)

general information continued
General Information Continued…
  • According to the National Autism Resources Center it has said that a lot of people and teachers are using Sign Language as a mode of quick communication particularly with children who have limited language capabilities.
  • There are a lot of advantages of using Sign Language that include, its inexpensive, portable, a true language system and communication can take place quickly.
general information continued1
General Information Continued…
  • Some research has shown that teaching Sign Language to students with Autism has helped them become more verbal and may actually help nonverbal autistic people to become verbal. Also when children with Autism have a form of communication they are more likely to interact with others socially. (National Autism Resources Center ,n.d.)
  • Since students with Autism are sometimes “impaired” at social interaction and communication skills, having them learn and communicate through Sign Language will help to develop better social interactions and communications between the students.
general information continued2
General Information Continued…
  • Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
  • Many people have different views as to what causes Autism. “It is distinguished not by a single symptom, but by a characteristic triad of symptoms: impairments in social interaction; impairments in communication, and restricted interests and repetitive behavior.
  • About a third to a half of individuals with autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs.
  • A result of having autism is having some impairment in communication.


positive research
Positive Research

The research that was done at the National Autism Resources Center has stated “Research and evidence has shown that in many cases Sign Language has actually helped children with Autism become more verbal.”

negative research
Negative Research

There are some draw backs though.

Not everyone understands Sign Language; this can hinder social interaction and cause the autistic child to become isolated. In some cases children with severe cognitive disabilities or attention deficits may not be able to learn Sign Language.

(National Autism Resource Center, n.d)

my methodology
My Methodology
  • This study was conducted in two different ways.
  • I did an observation and a survey was handed out to teachers.
my methodology continued
My Methodology Continued…
  • The surveys were sent out to about 28 teachers in a Special Education School in suburban area in New York I got responses from 8 of them. The teachers were asked how many students were in the class the total came to 73. And approximately 20 of the students use Sign Language.
  • I also did an observation. I observed a Special Education Class with a Special Education Teacher within the room, and other aides as well. The observation was done in Suburban classroom in New York. The observation was about 30 minutes long. I was looking for how using Sign Language helped the students to communicate with the teachers.
my survey
My Survey
  • The survey asked different questions like..
  • Does the student use Sign Language at home?
  • Do they use Sign Language with our without prompting in the classroom?
  • Do they use Sign Language with prompting?
  • How many students do you have?
  • How many of your students use Sign Language?
  • How often do the students use Sign Language?
  • Do they know specific words using Sign Language? If so what words?
  • For the students that use Sign Language what is the success rate(how often they use it, and if the signs are received and understood)?
  • Does the student communicate in another way? What is it?
  • For the students that don’t use Sign Language that have Autism how do they communicate?
  • In your experience working with Autistic children do you find that Sign Language or pictures work better to communicate with them?
some questions from my survey
Some questions from my Survey

2) Do they use Sing Language with or without prompting in the classroom?

1) Do the students use Sign Language?

some questions from my survey continued
Some questions from my Survey continued...

2b) Do they use Sign Language with prompting?

5) How often do the students use Sign Language?

some questions from my survey continued1
Some questions from my Survey continued...
  • Question 6 asked “Do they know specific words using Sign Language? If so what words?
  • The results I got back were, ( bathroom, help, more, stop, thank you, good, toilet, home, eat, sorry, excuse me, yes, no, ball, P.E., lunch, finished, drink, sit, down, me, swing, walk, book, swim, library).
results from the survey
Results from the Survey
  • The results of this survey showed that for the majority of the students that use it; it does help them communicate with the teachers.
  • I found out that some of the students have Autism, and them using Sign Language has helped them to communicate with others.
  • I also found out that some of the students have “Autistic like behaviors” but the use of Sign Language has helped them.
continued results from the survey
Continued Results from the Survey…
  • Most of the students were able to follow Sign Language on their own, with out being prompted by the teacher to do it.
  • One survey came back and said “Student 2- the student only used signs after teacher modeled the signs for them.” Even though this happened the Sign Language still is helping them communicate.
my observation
My Observation
  • My observation took place in the classroom.
  • The class had both male and female students. Ages from 8-15 years old.
  • The teacher and aides were there also.
  • My observation included 8 students. 2 girls and 6 boys. Not all the students used Sign Language. Some of the students had Autism and others had different disabilities.
  • 3 of the students used a little bit of Language as you will see on the chart to follow. One of the students used a voice box as well.
my chart
My Chart

The chart includes what I observed while watching the students in a classroom with disabilities.

results from my observation
Results from my Observation
  • From what I observed, it looks like children with Autism and other disabilities can benefit from using Sign Language.
  • Out of the 3 students that used Sign Language, they were mostly doing it in a response to something that was signed to them.
  • Some of the students even signed with out being prompted by the teacher.
results from my observation continued
Results from my Observation Continued…
  • A student may also use a Dyna Vox as means to communicate as well. The student uses this more then he signs to communicate with the teachers. He uses the Dyna Vox on his own, not being prompted by the teacher to use it.
  • A Dyna Vox is a communication device that assists people with disabilities in speech such as paralyzed vocal cords, and Cerebral Palsy victims. It is also helpful with people who have progressive diseases, and who cannot control their breathing. People use this as a different form of communication. The Dyna Vox, is a self programmed technical unit that allows a person to type what they need to communicate, or click on the pictures.

After the person clicks on the icons to form a sentence it will appear in the this box, and the voice will project what is meant to be communicated.

Ordinary example of a Dyna Vox

This shows a simpler model of a Dyna Vox to be used for a younger child that may not be able to read. As it shows only pictures.

the conclusion
The Conclusion
  • My conclusion is that Sign Language does actually help students with Autism communicate with the people surrounding them. Even though sometimes they might not do it on their own, they are prompted by the teacher to do it and they will follow the directions and sign what they need to.
the significance
The Significance
  • The significance of this study was to see if there was a relationship with students that have Autism or another disability can benefit from using Sign Language to further their communication skills with one another and the community around them.
  • Like anything there are always limitations.
  • The timing. I wanted more time to observe the students to see if they used any other ways of communication. How many times they would use Sing Language on their own, or have to be prompted by the teacher to use it. So more observation time.
  • This classroom out of all the students only 3 of them used Sign Language that is less than half of the students that are in the class. I wish I could have gone to a classroom where the majority used Sign Language. Only the 3 aides and the teacher and the 3 students used Sign Language.
  • The results might have changed if I was in a different classroom that had a majority of students who used Sign Language as a way of communication.
errors in the study
Errors in the Study
  • There was miscommunication with the surveys as to when they were due back.
  • Some of the surveys were given to teachers that didn’t have students that used Sign Language in their classroom.
  • It would have been better to have more surveys handed back.
  • American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorder (4th edition, Rev,) Washington, DC: Author. Bondy, A., & Frost, L. (1994). The picture exchange communication system. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 9, 1-19
  • Autism (n.d) Wikipedia Retrieved on January 30th,2001 from

  • Cohen, D.J. & Donnellan A.M., (1987) Handbook of Autism and pervasive developmental disorders. United States: A Wiley- inter science publication
  • Kluth, P. (2009) Teaching Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in the Inclusive Classroom. Porchester, NY: Dude Publishing
  • Murdock, L. and Hobbs, J (2010) Picture me Playing: Increasing pretend play dialogue of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal Autism Developmental Disorders
references continued
References Continued…
  • “National Autism Resources Center (n.d) Using Sign Language to help people with Autism communicate. Retrieved on January 30th, 2011
  • Sign Language (n.d.) Wikipedia Retrieved on January 30th, 2011
  • Ticani, M. Crozier, S. Alazetta, L. (2006) The Picture Exchange Communication System Effects on Manding and Speech Development for School aged Children with Autism. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities 2006, 41(2), 177-184.
  • Toth, A. (2009) Bridge of Signs: Can Sign Language Empower Non-Deaf Children to triumph over their Communication Disabilities? American Annals of the Deaf Volume 154, No. 2. 2009.