Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gestural Prompts for Apraxia – Therapy Techniques

Using hand signals (sometimes referred to as gestural prompts or visual cues) paired with specific speech sounds has been very successful at helping children with apraxia learn and use those sounds. Every professional book I have read about apraxia has a section on this technique. Every speech pathologist I’ve been working with uses gestural cues. It has worked exceptionally well with Ava. I’m going to explain the therapy technique, give you a specific example of how we’re using the technique with Ava right now, and then give you descriptions of several of the prompts we’re using right now.

Using hand signals is very simple actually. You just make sure your child is actually watching you, and then use the signal as you say the word. For example, right now we’re trying to get Ava to use the /t/ sound at the ends of words. She’ll say “ha” instead of “hat.” I will repeat the word emphasizing the /t/ sound at the end and at the same time I make the hand signal for /t/ (tapping the index finger on your upper lip right under the nose). The visual cue in addition to the auditory cue really seems to help her focus on that missing sound. Almost all the time now, she’ll then repeat the word adding the missing sound. She often uses the gestural cue herself when she repeats the word correctly. We’re also using the technique in the middle of words. Ava will say “tu uh” for “turtle”. If I use the hand signal for /t/ while emphasizing the /t/ sound that should be in the middle of the word, she will repeat, “tu tuh.” She still can’t make the /r/ or /l/ sound in that word, but she can add the /t/ in the middle.

These are the gestures we are using as our hand signals. You can use a different signal, it just needs to be consistent.

  • T - tap the index finger on the upper lip right under the nose
  • D - tap the index finger on the lower lip above the middle of the chin
  • P - close your fist and pop it open (into a "5" position)
  • B - use the ASL sign for /b/ and tap the hand gently against the side of your chin
  • M - gently pretend to pinch both lips closed together with your index finger and thumb
  • N - push index finger against one side of your nose as if you're trying to close one nostril
  • SH - finger across your lips like you're shushing a child

There are more. You can find a hand signal (or make one up) for any sound you might be working on. Here is a link to a great video of a woman demonstrating a hand signal for almost every sound. Some of her signals are different from what I described above and that’s ok. You can use any signal you’re comfortable with as long as that symbol is consistent. Also, don't feel like you need to learn all of these at once. Pick one or two to start with and if that goes well you can always learn more. Be sure to choose a sound that your child is currently working on and check with your SLP. She or he may already be using a hand signal for that sound.

Other than tapping, this is the technique that has been the most successful with Ava. I highly recommend it.


  1. Thanks for posting this! I've been reading your blog, my son (almost 3) also has speech apraxia and this will be very helpful -- he also responds well to these types of prompts.

  2. Thanks for the comment Tasha. Good luck with the prompts. Let me know if they help or if you need any more information.


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