Lámh is a manual sign system designed for children and adults with intellectual disabilites and communication needs in Ireland. Derived from Irish sign language (ISL) it’s use supports the spoken word and enhances special needs children’s understanding of language. By using a sign along with the word, the communicator is effectively giving the child a visual picture which reinforces language. Lamh does not aim to “replace” language. Although some children will use Lamh as their means of communication due to profound speech difficulties, the aim of Lamh is to support the learning of language and the development of speech.

By providing a child with an alternative method of communication, Lamh gives children who cannot express words an opportunity to express their wants, needs and understanding of the world around them. This in turn enables parents, carers and professionals to make inferences on their true undersanding.

Personal experience of how a child’s inability to articulate words can lead to underestimating their development.

I was sitting at the kitchen table with my 2 year old boy ( he has Down’s Syndrome and does not speak but has a sign vocabulary of around 25 words). We were looking at a colouring book and talking about the pictures when he signed “paint”.  I had my own agenda which did not involve messy paint all over his clothes as we were going out to a party in less than an hour. So I said “No painting, too dirty”.  Daniel sat for a moment, then slid off the chair, looked at me and signed “apron”! I didn’t know he knew the sign for apron for a start, but that wasn’t the main issue here. Daniel had processed what I had said to him, understood there was a problem, thought about it and provided a solution which he promptly  communicated to me. I was flabberghasted (he still didn’t get to paint) but WOW! From a practical point of view, I now knew that he understood and could use the sign for “apron” – great. But the realisation that I was grossly underestimating my son’s understanding of the world around him was huge. Thank you Lamh!

Why use Lamh signs?

  • Discriminating similar sounds is often difficult for people with special needs and young children.
  • By using a sign as well as the word, you can reinforce the word visually.
  • It is possible to use hand over hand to help children to make the sign -this is not possible with speech.
  • It takes longer to sign than it does to say a word. This is helpful with special needs people who take longer to process language.
  • When using signs, language is often slowed down and simplified to facilitate the signing. This is a good exercise in appropriate communication with people with language difficulties.

Tips when using Lamh signs

  • Keep hands free
  • Ensure eye-contact with the person
  • Speak clearly and slowly, using the sign with the appropriate word.
  • Do not mask your face with your hands – it is important for the child to see the shape the mouth makes to say the word
  • Always say the word as you do the sign.
  • Even if children are imprecise in their signing, make sure you are consistent with the correct sign.

The Lamh website provides infomation on upcoming signing courses. They are an excellent organisation devoted to communication for special needs children. If there are no signing courses in your area and you wish to seek advice on signs – or if you are a parent who just wants to talk, do not hesitate to contact me – Fiona O’Leary. I am an avid signer and will never tire of giving advice, showing signs or just discussing aspects of signing you may be unsure about.

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