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Introducing Key Word Sign

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Some of our Team Members have recently attended a local Key Word Sign (KWS) training through Key Word Sign NSW. KWS is the use of signs and natural gestures to support communication and the language development of children and adults with communication difficulties. KWS has also been proven to boost and support the communication development of children without communication difficulties. It is a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) which means another method of communication other than speech.

Signs accompany spoken words and can be used to emphasise the most important words in a message or sentence rather than signing every individual sign like you may use when communicating with Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Key Word Sign uses a core vocabulary of specifically selected words containing concepts and ideas. Each word or concept is matched with a hand sign. Key Word Signing uses the signs from Auslan however it is important to remember that you are using the Key Word Sign approach, not sign language!


- Use sign and speech together

- Sign key words but say the whole sentence

- Use visual strategies such as your body language and facial expression


- Help a person’s understanding

- Help a person communicate effectively if their speech is slow to develop

- Supplement and support speech attempts if speech is not clear

- Be used as an alternative for someone who has no speech

- Learning KWS can assist a child who is having difficulties understanding information

- Learning KWS can reduce behavioural difficulties related to frustration and communication challenges

- KWS works well in the school environment where visual prompts can support understanding and facilitate participation in a busy, often noisy environment


- Use a small number of Key Word Signs as a start and practice using these regularly

- Create a support network, the more people in a child or adult’s life who use sign, the more practice and reinforcement they receive

- Use fun, high frequency words, we call these core vocabulary words. These words are powerful words that once signed have an impact on the person they are talking to. Words like more, open, help, go, eat, drink are a great place to start because they generally make something cool happen, or allow the child to get their needs met, this helps to reinforce them!


Key Word Sign New South Wales

The Scope Shop to purchase resources

The Auslan Signbank dictionary

If you have any questions about getting started with Key Word Sign please talk to your Key Contact at Muddy Puddles.


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