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ASL Development Checklist

Stage 1

o Begin to use simple handshapes (e.g., B, C, O, A, S, 1, 5).

o Begins to use simple movements (e.g., straight forward, up down).
o Begins to use simple single-sign vocabulary.
o Begins to combine signs into simple two-sign sentences.
o Uses classifiers (Object) (E.g., 2h CL: O-pole).
o Negation headshake alone or headshake with negative sign

headshake headshake

o Questions used include Yes/No and What, Where

whq (frown) Yes/Noq (eyebrows raised)


o Indexes (points to) present objects and people.

o Storytelling is not always clearcopying actions and facial expressions.

Stage 2

o Tries to use complex handshape, but often simplifies (substitutes simple handshapes)
(e.g., WATER with 5 handshape replacing the W handshape)
o Uses simple movements (straight forward, up down).
o Use of verb modification
WALKstroll; WALKquickly; WALKfor a long time
o Three- or four-sign sentences.
o Classifiers: Object + Movement (e.g., CL:3car driving forward).
o Negationheadshake with non-negative sign


o Questions used include Yes/No and What, Where, Why

whq (frown)

o Storytelling (different roles, body shift, facial expression)

o Substitutes present objects to talk about object and people not present.
o Character identification and shifts not always clear.
Stage 3

o Begins to use complex handshapes (e. g., X, Y, T, R, 3)

o Begins to use complex movements (e.g. wiggly movement)
o Begins to use verb modifications to indicate number and distribution
(e.g., FALL, singular; FALL, plural; FALL, random)
o Begins to use noun modification to indicate intensity, size, and quality of objects
(e.g., bowlbig)
o Questions used include Yes/No and What, Where, Why, For-For, Who

Sentence structures:

o Begins to use Topicalization IX (my) ROOM, PAINT TOMORROW

____rhet (raised eyebrows)

o Begins to use rhetorical questions (e.g., TURTLE RUN, WHO WIN, TURTLE)


o Inconsistent use of points in space to represent nonpresent objects/people.

o Role-play through body shifts, eye gaze, and facial expression.

Stage 4

o Consistent use of complex handshapes and movements (e.g., fingerspelling short words and names).
o Use of noun modification to indicate the spatial arrangement of objects (e.g., TREE++ in a row; TREE++
in a cluster).
o Use of bracketing to indicate wh questions

________wh (frown)

Sentence structures:

o Topicalization (topic continuation)

o Rhetorical questions
o Conditionals (IF or SUPPOSE)

_______cond. (brow raised)


o Appropriate use of full abstract referencing for objects/people not present.

o Storytelling (character identification, role-play, role shifts) is clear and consistent.

From Language Learning in Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Multiple Pathways,
Easterbrooks, and Baker,
Beginning Early Intermediate Early Advanced Advanced
The student is observant of The student demonstrates The student is increasingly The student is much more Can carry a conversation
language being modeled in more confidence using confident speaking in front comfortable and confident or classroom discussion
the environment. She/he ASL but still prefers to of group or participating in in sharing ideas or without difficulty.
can imitate actions and converse one-on-one with class discussions. information in front of the
facial expressions. peers or teacher. class.
Social Language Development

Code switches to match

Progression of Academic and

Can discuss academic

the ASL skills of other
Can use gesture to Will inquire about ideas such as main points More fluent in following
deaf students, teacher, or
communicate or can meaning of signs or words of a story or a science or the conversation of two or
hearing people.
physically demonstrate that are not understood. history project. more people. Can respond
behaviors (e.g., show the to questions with details.
Able to decipher general
action of falling by Can use basic ASL to Able to analyze, explain,
and implied meaning
pretending to fall.) communicate needs and describe and define using Consistently comprehends
including idiomatic,
share feelings. Can use content-related general meanings, and
figurative language
Can use facial expressions gestures when words are vocabulary. demonstrates
to clarify meaning (e.g., not readily available. understanding of nuances
Able to adapt language to
head nods and smiling). More use of eye gaze and implied meanings
formal and casual registers
Can retell, ask and answer when following expressed by body
depending on audience
Is beginning to maintain simple questions, and conversational turns. language, facial
and purpose.
eye contact with adults or summarize. expressions or words.
peers, but is not consistent.
Has no difficulty with
Eye gaze is longer and Starts to engage in ASL
academic language of the
Recognizes some signs as more purposeful. sign play by manipulating
classroom. Able to discuss
representing objects in signs within ASL lexicon
and understand abstract
immediate environment. rules or other kinds of
inventive sign play (e.g.,
can create slang or jokes).
Expresses what she/he Uses appropriate facial Asks and responds to more Asks bracketed questions, Able to ask any questions
wants by shaking his/her expressions with eyebrows type of questions that i.e., starting and ending a fluently and properly.

head, and sometimes when asking wh- or yes/no include signing (e.g., FOR- question with wh-question.
responding to questions questions Can respond to FOR?, HOW?, WHEN?
and simple commands simple wh- questions or WHICH? using
with yes or no. (e.g., who, what, where, appropriate facial
why). expressions.
Uses simple or basic single Start to use ASL sentence Begins to use more Uses conditionals, facial Able to do all the sentence
word signs and use structure including complex sentence adverbials (ifthen structures mentioned on
sometimes combination of different combinations of structures such as statements), rhetorical the left with ease.
two to three signs to make subject, verb, object and rhetorical questions and comment (e.g., WHY? I
a sentence or phrase based location (e.g., LSOV- topicalization (e.g.,. MY LIKE IT.), and

on needs or wants. (e.g., home (?), MOM JUICE FAVORITE SUBJECT? topicalization with
MY NAME (fs), HE PLAY, DRINK). SCIENCE. DRESS RED) but consistent accuracy.
ME HUNGRY EAT). not always in correct word
order or facial expression. Able to uses topic
continuation (i.e., holding
the topic on one hand and
continuing to sign the
comment on other hand).
Uses plain verbs Demonstrates emerging Capable of using spatial Continues to show Uses verb with wide
consistently. (e.g., DRINK, use of subject-verb subject-verb agreement development of intensity register depending on
TASTE, PLAY, agreement (e.g., (e.g., YOU-GIVE-ME, HE- (COMFORTABLE, situation.

Uses noun-verb pairs geographical: (e.g.,FLY- Shows verb inflection for and temporal aspects in
(e.g., DOOR/CLOSE-DOOR, TO, MOVE-THERE); temporal aspect (e.g., including number and
AIRPLANE/FLY). reciprocal: (e.g., KISS, READ, READ-QUICKLY, distribution with verbs
Demonstrates emerging Uses instrument classifiers Uses descriptive classifiers Continues to use Uses classifiers with ease-
use of classifiers to (e.g., PULL-OUT; ZIP-UP; to describe nouns, descriptive classifiers to without being conscious
describe basic objects TURN-ON-TV). including color, size, show intensity for noun- about it.
(e.g., DCL:C- ball, or shape, and quality (e.g., size, shape, texture, and
DCL:B- box). Uses more locative hairstyle, body type, size, quality (e.g., LIGHT,

classifier to show texture). BRIGHT; ROAD, BUMPY).

relationship with other
objects (e.g., LCL: 1- Show number and location
pencil, on desk LCL: B). through plural spatial
classifiers (e.g., two
Starts to use classifier people walking, people
manner of verb (e.g., 3 seated in a circle; line of
car move up and down, people; books in row).
person 1 walking by).

Use of index finger to Uses both personal and Uses reflective pronouns Can analyze and/or Can describe a situation

point at self, people, possessive pronouns with with HS- A (yourself, compare and contrast two involving more than two
objects or places in present HS 1 or 5 (linguistic). myself, himself. items/person/stories (using items/person/stories
environment (gestural/ appropriate placement in
nonlinguistc). space).

While storytelling or During storytelling or Begins to place points in Use of role play, role shift, Character placement
talking, can talk about retelling a story, uses a space for characters. grammatical facial (spatial referencing) and
Formal Expressive Skills

what is in the immediate little or no role shifting Exhibits role play, but expressions, and eye gaze identification are clear.
environment. and placements of body shifting, eye-gaze are more consistent. The signer takes on
characters. Tends to place and facial expressions various characters
(Storytelling or

Can point to pictures or characters in the same arent consistent. Also, Able to talk abstractly perspectives.
talk about events that place. No clear sequence doesnt always use the about people or things that
happened in the here and of time. time sequence accurately. arent present.
Can talk about past and Can talk about past and Can use referencing more
Copies actions or facial things that are not present, things that are not present accurately.
expressions of others. but still needs to act it out without acting it out (e.g.,
or use objects to actually falling to the More consistently able to
demonstrate past events. ground). sequence objects, give
step-by-step instructions or
clearly explain the order of
Responds to her/his Demonstrates emergent Includes fingerspelled Understands fingerspelled Fingerspelled words

fingerspelled name and use of fully fingerspelled words in conversation, but words and fingerspells become lexical signs. (i.e.
can use name signs and words including short may not always fluently. what back ok

signs of others. words, name of person or understand fingerspelled early)

place. words.

Uses fingerspelled English Increasingly will

words to ask for a sign fingerspell English words
translation. for sign translation.
Starts to respond to Can appropriately get More appropriate use of More sensitive to Can re-cap or summarize
Cultural Behavior

attention-getting others attention and attention-getting communication needs of for someone if he/she has
techniques (e.g., tapping readily responds to techniques (e.g., asking others (e.g., moving so missed something because
on shoulder, waving a attention-getting methods someone to tap another others can see, giving full they were absent or out of
hand in his/her field of (e.g., tapping on shoulder, person because they are attention, and making visual field.
vision, flashing lights). stomping on floor, or beyond his/her reach). appropriate responses to
waving hands). indicate understanding).
Begins to express his/her Capable of explaining in
Begins to seek out and own literary forms (e.g., Continues to enjoy and different ways if not
enjoy ASL literary forms ASL storytelling or ABC express literary forms. understood at first.
(e.g., ASL storytelling and stories).
ABC stories).

University of California, San Diego

ASL Stages of Development
Page 1 of 3
Early Childhood Education Department
California School for the Deaf
39350 Gallaudet Drive
Fremont, CA 94538

3 to 12 months
y Begins to notice signing
y First sign may emerge from 10 to 12 months
y Babbles with hands
y Imitates facial expressions
y Points to people, objects and places but not at self

12 to 18 months
y Uses at least 10 signs
y Begins to use points as pronouns
y Acquires new signs but does not mark with inflections

18 to 24 months
y Signs reflect basic handshapes with simple movements (straight
forward, up, or down)
y Early signs not always produced according to adult conventional
y Combines 2 or 3 signs including points
y Begins to distinguish and use non-manual markers (facial

2 to 3 years
y Sign order used to show semantic relations
y Begins to use classifiers to represent objects (with little or no
movement); types limited by the handshapes child can produce
y Begins to use varied inflected verb forms (directional/agreement,
dual, temporal aspect)
y Attempts more complex signs but substitutes basic handshapes for
the complex handshapes
y Begins to use non-manual markers (raised/squinted eyebrows) for
YES/NO and WH-questions
y Demonstrates negation with headshake or sign NO
y Begins to use possessive (your, mine) and plural (US-TWO, YOU-
THREE) pronouns
y Refers to things around them during conversations and storytelling;
may copy the actions and facial expressions of others in a story

3 to 4 years
y Begins to mark distinctions between noun-verb pairs
y Uses classifiers to show objects and movements of these objects
y Begins to make modifications to verb signs to show the manner and
amount of time involved in an activity (temporal aspect) by

California School for the Deaf ~Fremont

Early Childhood Education Department
ASL Stages of Development
Page 2 of 3
changing the movement of the sign and/or adding facial
y All real world pronouns (pointing at objects and people in the
immediate environment) used correctly
y Tells stories through use of objects or role-playing; may not always
show clearly who is speaking or doing something

4 to 5 years
y More complex handshapes and movement (wiggling fingers,
twisting wrists) used accurately
y Begins to use noun modifications to show different meaning (e.g.
repeating the noun to show plural)
y Simple sentences still used buy complex sentences including
topicalization and rhetorical questions emerging
y Begins to set up points in space to establish location for people and
objects not present in the environment
y Role-playing used more frequently with characters clearly identified
but skills to show changes in roles such as body shifts, eye gaze
and facial expression not used consistently

5 to 6 years
y Clear and consistent use of complex handshapes and movement
y Fingerspelling used more
y Use of complex sentences including relative clauses and
conditionals continuing to expand
y Use of verb modifications to show intensity, manner, number and
distribution continuing to expand
y Use of abstract referencing to talk about people and things not in
the present environment
y Storytelling becomes more adult like; makes frequent self
y Takes on a variety of roles during conversation and storytelling;
changes in roles indicated through facial expression, body shifts
and eye gaze shown clearly and consistently

California School for the Deaf ~Fremont

Early Childhood Education Department
ASL Stages of Development
Page 3 of 3

Bonvillian, J.D., Orlansky, M.D. and Floven, R.J., Early Sign Language
Acquisition: Implications for Theories of Language Acquisition, Third International
Symposium on Sign Language Research, 1983

French, Martha; The Toolkit Appendices for Starting with Assessment A

Developmental Approach to Deaf Childrens Literacy, Pre-College National
Mission Programs, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., 1999

Newport, Elissa L. and Meier, Richard p.; The Acquisition of American Sign
Language, NIH/NSF Research Grants, 1986

Schick, Brenda; The Development of ASL, University of Maryland, 1991

Sign Talk Development Project, Discovering with Words and Signs, A Resource
Guide for Developing a Bilingual and Bicultural Preschool Program for Deaf and
Hearing Children, 1994

California School for the Deaf ~Fremont

Early Childhood Education Department
Checklist of Emerging ASL Skills

Available in: Easterbrooks, S & Baker, S. Language Learning In Children Who Are Deaf
And Hard Of Hearing: Multiple Pathways. (2002) Allyn and Bacon, Boston, Mass.

This checklist provides a series of indicators to judge whether a deaf child has components of
ASL in his or her communication system. The evaluator should not judge a child's skills based
on English ability. The focus should be on ASL.

The checklist should be filled out by at least three different evaluators who are familiar with the
child and who are proficient in ASL.

ASL Development Observation Record

Available through: ASL Resource Teacher, Early Childhood Education Program, California
School for the Deaf, Freemont (CSDF), 39350 Gallaudet Drive, Fremont, CA 94538 (510) 794-

This tool was developed by the Early Childhood Education program at the CSDF to document
the ASL language development of deaf children from the time they entered the program to
Kindergarten. The goal of the observation record is to identify the language strengths and needs
of each child and to document the progress made over the time spent in the Early Childhood
Education program. This record also serves as a guide for teachers in assessing their role as
language models and how they use language with the children.

The American Sign Language Proficiency Assessment (ASL-PA)

Available by contacting: Dr. Sam Supalla, Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and
School Psychology, College of Education, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 (520) 621-
9466 (TTY) E-mail:

The ASL-PA globally assesses the expressive ASL skills of children ages 6-12 years of age.
Items/target features are based on ASL acquisition studies. Language samples are elicited from
varied discourse contexts. There are no sample norms presently available.

Test of American Sign Language (TASL)

Available by contacting: Dr. Philip Prinz, Department of Special Education and Communicative
Disorders, San Francisco State University (415) 338-7655 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting
(415) 338-7655 end_of_the_skype_highlighting E-mail:

The TASL consists of two production measures (Classifier Production Test, and Sign Narrative)
and four comprehension measures (Story Comprehension, Classifier Comprehension Test, Time
Marker Test, and Map Marker Test). It is designed to be used with deaf students ages 8-15 years.

The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory for American Sign Language,