University of Edinburgh

Play and Communication with Pupils with Visual Impairment and Additional Support Needs

Presented on Thursday 7 and Friday 8 December

Canaan Barrie Signs

Mary Lee, Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

A sign vocabulary adapted for children with visual impairment and additional support needs.

Reasons for the Use of Adapted Signs

To encourage the understanding of language

  • It brings the adult close to the child
  • The adult’s language is slower, simpler and clearer
  • It focuses listening

To compensate for the visual aspects of non verbal communication.

To give children an alternative means of expressive communication.

To encourage the development of spoken language.

Characteristics of the Adapted Sign Vocabulary

  • Most signs have a reference point on the body.
  • The signs give auditory feedback, or involve movements close to the child.
  • The signs are simplified and do not involve complex manipulative skills.
  • The adapted sign vocabulary reflects the everyday routines, needs and interests of the child with visual impairment.

Using the Signs

  • Use all the signs in the core vocabulary to create a signing environment.
  • Sign keywords only in a sentence and always accompany them with speech.
  • Pay attention to tone of voice and facial expression.
  • Observe carefully for the child's reaction and respond accordingly.
  • Continue to accept and respond to the child’s personal gestures.

Methods of Signing

  • In front
  • On body
  • Hands over

Signing in front

  • Start with this as it is least intrusive.
  • Sign close to child's face so he is aware of movement and currents of air.
  • Adult’s position should take into account nature of child's visual impairment.

On body signing

  • Proceed carefully assessing child’s reaction.
  • This method offers the best feedback, so use where signs permit and when acceptable to child.
  • Always warn child before starting to sign on body.

Hands over signing

  • Do not hold or manipulate child’s hands.
  • Keep hands under child’s or let him hold finger, so he is free to remove his hands.

This is primarily a way of teaching sign – aim to remove hands gradually.

  • Do not insist on accuracy at first.
  • Certain children like to use the adult's hands to sign with – they feel better contact.
  • As child's understanding grows signs can be shown more directly.