Learning to ‘speak’ with your baby

A Buncrana born speech and language therapy graduate whose Master’s research studied how toddlers best learn to talk and why some take longer than others, is offering a unique new course in County Donegal.

Siabhra O’Flaherty, who very recently became Mrs David Henry, has established a baby signing and rhyming class which has already proven to give children a head start in communication.

Hand TuLips is the only course of its kind available outside of Dublin.
Siabhra explained the origins and benefits of improving communications between toddlers and parents, thus reducing frustration on both sides.


While Hand TuLips is ideally suited to babies from six months to three years, it has also proven successful in assisting late developers to talk as well as assisting those with learning disabilities.
“Baby signing is fairly new to Donegal but it is widely practised throughout the world. It is based on the concept of using signs to help babies and children communicate before they can speak.

“It offers parents and opportunity to interact with the child on a completely new level and reduce the frustrations when you are trying to discover why your child might be unhappy or cross,” Siabhra said.

She first came across the classes when her older sister Sinead was researching online for her baby Olivia. She was staying with her sister and started signing with Olivia who responded so quickly and her communication skills improved dramatically.

Last year Siabhra went to the US where the practice is very popular. It was naturally complimentary to the sign language qualifications she holds in both Ireland and Britain as well as the developmental order Lámh, a manual sign system used by children and adults with intellectual disability and communication needs in Ireland.

She explained that children start babbling at around six months and usually by the time they are eight to ten months they know their name and yes and no. By 12 to 18 months they should be starting to form words.

“However more and more children are not doing this for a whole variety of reasons. My thesis looked at the development of late talking toddlers where the sign is always said with the spoken word. It encourages speech and language development. Babies are very clever little people with an amazing ability to communicate through movement,” she added.

As the children progress they drop the signs which become to slow compared to their speech.


Siabhra has been working across Donegal since February and the response has been huge. Where there is local demand she can help organise groups of up to ten or provide individual classes.
Siabhra O'Flaherty.

The course is six weeks long and each class lasts one hour with a different theme each week and songs and words to accompany that theme.

“This programme offers everything a baby needs to jump-start communication – who wouldn’t want their child to be the first among their peers to be communicating, to be the most chilled out, to be happier, to have a real head start”.

Special needs
While the basis Hand TuLip courses are for hearing babies and toddlers, Siabhra has recently been providing specialist programmes at The Little Angels School in Letterkenny.

“I have adapted programmes with signing for those with developmental disorders, special needs and autism. Most children with special needs don’t get the opportunity of pre-school so we would look at possibly getting a group together. I will alter the programme to suit the childrens’ needs and abilities.”
For further inforamtion contact Siabhra on 086 3572041 email;

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