I remember the first time I saw American Sign Language (ASL) being used, I thought it was such an interesting and unique language; especially since I am naturally quite prone to talking with my hands. I took a class in graduate school out of curiosity (foreign language requirement already having been fulfilled), which led to a second course, and eventually a third. I could not get enough. Who could blame me? ASL is a witty, fun and beautiful language with both complexities and uncomplicated interpretations.

So, how can we use this resource with our students, even if you have little to no background with it? To start, SymbolStix PRIME has over 800 ASL symbols in the library that will allow us to better communicate with our students, and help our students better communicate with each other.

Increase Skill Acquisition

Not everyone learns just by listening or seeing—oftentimes it is the “doing” or assigning of a muscle repetition that increases learning… i.e. tactile learning strengthens muscle memory and therefore solidifies the learning. When teaching a communication strategy or language sound, pairing a sign or symbol to go along with it will increase acquisition of the skill and provide a prompt that is both visual and tactile. Example: When teaching a student that the letter K has a “kuh” sound that comes from your throat, pair the ASL “K” symbol with the sound while gesturing the front of your throat in order to prompt the correct pronunciation.

Sign Language can also be taught and used to meet basic needs as a primary means or back-up in the event that a picture exchange system or other Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is not readily available.

I would suggest addressing the following basic needs:

  • Help
  • Stop
  • More
  • Bathroom
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Yes
  • No

This can eventually be expanded on to label feelings, emotions, names, locations and more individualized needs.

ASL Is an Access Point

If you and/or your students are learning ASL for the first time, it’s an amazing inclusion opportunity for teaching, learning, and practicing with peers. If your student already knows ASL then perhaps they can be the teacher, with the support of the SymbolStix visuals, for the rest of the class. You may be surprised to see just how much kids love to learn ASL and simultaneously provide an access point to communicate with their non-verbal peers. This opportunity teaches open-mindedness, tolerance, empathy and caring in an all-inclusive way.

I was reminded of this many years ago when I was asked to tutor a second-grade girl at her home in learning some ASL basics. Her parents reached out to me because their daughter had a hearing-impaired classmate and she wanted nothing more than to be able to talk with him. She was so excited to learn the language that she even inspired her younger brother to join in on our sessions. We, as teachers, are constantly trying to teach our students as many tools and resources as possible to foster their independence. ASL may very well help bridge a gap for one or more individuals in your life.

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About the Author
Cara Luce is an intervention specialist who has spent 10 years working with students who have specialized learning needs at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. Her training is in the areas of speech and hearing as well as curriculum and instruction. She believes in presuming intellect, supporting advocacy, promoting laughter and creating a supportive community for all. Cara earned a Master of Education degree from Cleveland State University.