Key Word Sign is an evidence-based intervention that supports the development of speech, language, communication and social interaction skills in young children, and functional communication and participation in older children and adults. At present, there is only a very small amount of published research about key word sign or other ‘unaided’ methods of communication. The research that is available sits within a much larger body of research that is focused on ‘aided’ methods of communication, like use of visual symbols, speech generating devices, and ways to support these.

At Key Word Sign Australia, we want to redress this imbalance and encourage researchers, clinicians, service providers, clients, families and communities to design, create, participate in, publish, disseminate and implement research about use of manual signing, specifically Key Word Sign, as part of a multimodal communication approach for people with communication difficulties.

Specifically, our role includes:

  • Sourcing high quality research publications about key word sign, manual signing, unaided AAC and multimodal commuication
  • Synthesising (pulling together) and summarising key research findings
  • Contributing to the creation of new research about Key Word Sign by:
    • Leading or commissioning original research projects
    • Co-supervising undergraduate and post graduate student research projects (Honours, Masters, PhD)
    • Supporting the research, implementation, evaluation or quality improvement process through consultation, mentoring, small scale project funding, participant recruitment advertising and dissemination pathways
  • Translating research findings into accessible formats that help people to use Key Word Sign in their daily lives (e.g. Plain language and Easy Read summaries, training and education, professional development events, research informed products)
  • Coordinating research events including conferences, seminars, and workshops about Key Word Sign

There are many ways engage with research about Key Word Sign. Contact us today to find out how you can be involved!

Key Word Sign Australia has developed some summaries of recent research about key word sign, augmentative and alternative communication, and multimodal communication strategies.

Tell us about new research you would like to see included as a summary.

We have also compiled a bibliography of sources, which you may find helpful if you want to read more about key word sign, gesture and multimodal communication.

Download Bibliography


  • Cologon, K., & Mevawalla, Z. (2018). Increasing inclusion in early childhood: Key word sign as a communication partner intervention. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 22(8), 902-920. Download
  • Goldin-Meadow, S., & Alibali, M.W. (2013). Gesture’s role in speaking, learning and creating language. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 257-283. Download
  • Shared book reading and key word sign: a review of recent evidence. Download
  • Rombouts, E., Maes, B., & Zink, I. (2017). Key word signing usage of adults with intellectual disabilities: Influence of communication partners’ sign usage and responsivity. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 26(3), 853. doi:10.1044/2017_AJSLP-16-0051. Download
  • Pattison, A.E., & Robertson, R.E. (2016). Simultaneous presentation of speech and sign prompts to increase MLU in children with intellectual disability. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 37(3), 141-147. Download

The amount of research about key word sign, gesture and multimodal communication is growing.

Here is a selection of recently completed research projects from Australian researchers and their students. If you have completed research about key word sign and would like to share it with the KWS community here, please contact us.


Jingya (Anita) Wen, Rebecca Sutherland

Australian Speech-Language Pathologists knowledge and use of Key Word Sign


Aimee Hill, Leigha Dark, Karen Liu

Exploring the manual dexterity demands of the Australian Key Word Sign Vocabulary: An analysis of key word sign parameters.


Natalie Despois, Leigha Dark, Karen Liu

Exploring the manual dexterity demands of the Australian Key Word Sign Vocabulary: Parent and caregiver perspectives.


Olivia Skala, Leigha Dark, Aniqa Farwa

Using key word sign and multimodal communication: Stories of siblings of children with disability and complex communication needs.


Andy Smidt, Constantina Markoulli, Chloe Wine, Elsie Chang, Harmony Turnbull, Aylin Huzmeli, Monique Hines

Retention of signs following a one-day key word sign training 


Rachel Maiden, Leigha Dark, Nisrine El-Chouefati

Instructional strategies used to teach Key Word Sign: An analysis of Australian speech-language pathologists’ decision-making processes and practices.


Elizabeth Allan, Leigha Dark, Libby Brownlie

Supporting children with complex communication needs using Key Word Sign: Parents’ perspectives.