John D. Bonvillian; Nicole Kissane Lee; Tracy T. Dooley; Filip T. Loncke

Published On


Page Range

pp. 141-186

Print Length

45 pages

5. Childhood Autism and Sign Communication

  • John D. Bonvillian (author)
  • Nicole Kissane Lee (author)
  • Tracy T. Dooley (author)
  • Filip T. Loncke (author)
Chapter 5 provides a comprehensive, historical overview of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) along with the various language therapies employed to improve the communicative success of minimally verbal individuals. The various strengths and weaknesses of such approaches are analyzed as a basis for helping to determine which methods are likely to be the most successful. The history of signing in persons with ASD is examined, with a special focus on the relatively recent realization that motor skills (both gross and fine) and imitation abilities in such individuals may be severely impaired, thus limiting the effectiveness of sign interventions that do not take into consideration the motor complexity of the signs used. Since many parents and caregivers may also express reluctance to adopt a strategy that uses signs out of fear that this will prevent their child’s acquisition of speech, research dispelling this myth is provided. In addition to coverage of sign-communication interventions and strategies for promoting spontaneous communication and generalization of sign use to multiple settings, other non-oral approaches employed with persons with disabilities are presented as options, including the use of real objects, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Blissymbols, speech-generating devices, and software applications.


John D. Bonvillian


Nicole Kissane Lee


Tracy T. Dooley


Filip T. Loncke