6 ASL Signs For Autistic Folks

Because Jess and I really need one more thing to do *sarcasm* we’re learning American Sign Language (ASL) together. When you think about it, it’s very practical. When I’m having a nonverbal moment, or hour, or day, we can communicate like usual. We also won’t know for a few years if my hearing loss will progress, so learning ASL now is ideal.

I will say right up front, that signing is definitely limited in its helpfulness, especially if you don’t know anyone else who signs. It can be helpful when it comes to emergency situations. Many paramedics, firefighters, and ER employees know some health-related signs like ‘what hurts?’ and ’emergency contact’. The most signing situation is getting friends and family involved. If the people around you know can communicate with you on a verbally challenged day (that’s what we call it anyway), it can keep everyone from getting frustrated, which means needs are met more quickly, and everyone involved feels better faster.

I’ll be linking the signs I talk about to Lifeprint.com, which is considered to be the best sign language resource on the internet.

1, ABCs– This is cheating but ABCs are the biggest bang for your ASL buck because it lets you communicate any word you want, as long as you can spell it. Fingerspelling is great in a pinch, but it gets annoying for the signer and the signee really fast. Still being able to fingerspell is always a skill worth knowing.

2. Help– This is primarily one of those ‘in case emergency’ signs. Hopefully, if you are ever in a place where you need help, a police officer, EMT, or ER nurse will recognize the sign and provide assistance. Conversely, this sign works great in letting trusted friends or family know that you need help now.

3. Autism/Autistic– Because being able to sign who you are is pretty important. That being said, the sign for autism/autistic is often problematic. There are lots of versions, and a lot of them are considered out of date or offensive. There are also a lot of regional signs for autism, so someone in Florida might no use the same sign as someone in Minnesota. In St. Louis, we sign autism/autistic using the sign for ‘spectrum’ which I love!

4. Hearing– When it comes to ASL, there are generally 3 groups of people- Deaf, hearing, and hard-of-hearing. Autistic folks who are nonverbal, people with aphasia, and people who are mute are a minority. If you’re using ASL the Deaf/hearing/hoh question will be the first one you’re asked. This is more about social rules than anything else.

5. I need– ‘Need’ shares its sign with a lot of other signs like ‘must’ and ‘should’ which makes it extra useful. Pair this sign with fingerspelling of whatever you could possibly need is a powerful communication tool to have.

6. Home signs- The same way hearing people give things nicknames, Deaf people give home signs. While it’s very bad etiquette to make up signs, giving objects that don’t have signs ‘nicknames’ to be used amongst family members is very common. For example, we use the letter ‘W’ twisting back and forth to refer to Winnie. So having home signs figured out for important things like ear defenders, stim toys, or other necessities is a smart thing to do.

There we go, the most useful signs that I’ve learned so far! I know that I meant to start learning to sign for so many years and that it took having actual hearing loss to get my butt in gear and just start learning. So hopefully if you’re anything like me, these essential signs might be the push you need to check out the resources that are out there!