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What's that sign? Key Word Sign.

What is key word sign (KWS)?

Key Word Sign or KWS is the use of natural gestures and manual signs, which can be used to further develop children's and adults' understanding and use of language using a core vocabulary approach.

Why do we use KWS?

KWS was developed as an alternative means of communication for those with challenges in receptive and expressive language.

We use KWS to assist in understanding language: the sign is a visual cue and can be used to help others in understanding what is trying to be expressed.

As an expressive language, KWS provides an alternative system of non-verbally communicating needs and wants, whilst also modelling verbal language which is paired with the sign. It may be helpful when we are experiencing auditory or sensory overload from too much verbal input to reduce the auditory load and provide a visual cue for those visual learners.

KWS may reduce frustration for those with limited communication means and therefore offer the provision of choice in communication methods. In this way, it can also be used when communication breakdown occurs.

And, of course, to encourage social interaction in a fun way, KWS only requires use of our hands and body language which is always easily available to use.

Adult and child using Key Word Sign to aid in communication.

Do we use KWS on its own?

We pair KWS with the spoken word or sentence to increase understanding.

KWS can be used alongside other alternative communication systems, too. There are many children and adults who use multi-model communication, which just means it is OK to use more than one communication system, such as a communication device, verbal language, and picture exchange. Our ultimate aim for everyone is to get their message across as quickly and effectively as they can.

Strategies to keep in mind when using KWS

  1. When using sign, we have a dominant hand and non-dominant hand we use to create our manual signs. Our dominant hand is the hand we usually write or draw with. We need to keep this consistent and try not to switch our dominant hand, otherwise this can lead to confusion with interpretation of our signs.
  2. When modelling KWS, we model the key 'words' and pair this with a spoken word or sentence; this ensures the adult or child has exposure to a wide range of vocabulary.
  3. Match your sign with your body language and facial expressions e.g. if you are signing "more" to request more of an activity, pair this with an excited facial expression as though you are excited about playing more of the game or activity, using eye contact. You can model joint attention skills by looking from the activity back to the adult or child.
  4. Ensure you are face-to-face and at the person's eye level when modelling the sign so they can see you best!

Want to find out more?

If you think someone you know would benefit from using Key Word Sign, have a chat to your Speech Pathologist. You can also start learning signs through the Auslan Tutor Key Signs app.

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