Requesting Using Signs

EC Handout #11
Valley CoPA (Community of Practice in Autism) – January 2008 from the RAISE Infant Program

When working to establish communication, we usually work on requesting first. Requesting is the only form of language that directly benefits the child and so learning to request teaches your child that talking is valuable and words are powerful!

  1. To teach this concept of requesting, select strong reinforcers/something your child really wants


    Your child has to WANT the reinforcer or it won’t work. If he/she just ate lunch, food won’t be a good reinforcer. What is reinforcing changes throughout the day, week and month.

  2. Follow the procedure used in the example below:

  3. As your child begins to learn to do the sign, you fade the prompt

  4. At first, select a few clear and very strong motivators that do not have signs that look the same (for example, the signs for “eat:” and “drink” are very similar in how they are done and so both should not be taught in the beginning.) Possible examples may include: cookie (or another favorite food), music, swing, ball, up, tickle. Once you select the favorite activities/items, use the above procedure consistently throughout the day. It will take your child much longer to learn how to sign if sometimes you use the above process and other times you just let him/her have what he/she wants without having to sign. So, if you choose “swing” as one of the early signs to teach, but you don’t always make your child sign “swing” when he/she wants to swing, it may take your child a very long time to learn to use that sign.

    As your child learns some signs and is using them to request, then use this process with as many things as possible during the day. Think of all the things you do for your child that you can set up as requests! Your child may be doing a lot of things independently for himself (getting toys he wants, getting a snack, turning on the TV, etc.). While independence is important, most children learn those kind of independent skills easily. Learning language is hard work and it is very hard to teach! So you might want to think about creating multiple situations all day long that make your child dependent on you and dependent on learning to request in order to get what he wants