As an Early Intervention Special Educator, I use simple signs to help children communicate on a regular basis. Although some parents express concern that the use of sign language may discourage their child from talking, research has shown that this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. Sign language helps to alleviate frustration and gives a child who is not yet able to verbalize a way to communicate.
When choosing which signs to teach a child, I typically recommend starting with signs for food, objects or activities that a child likes. If you think about it, it makes total sense. Why teach a child to sign for something he/she does not want? There is no motivation in that. Here is a list of the simple signs I teach most often and recommend for speech-delayed toddlers:
10.Candy (use this for fruit snacks)
12.Block (I typically use the sign for build as the sign for block is difficult for young children)
17.Me (I also use this for "my turn")
18.Give me / want
20.TV / movie
Sometimes children make up their own signs; this is perfectly acceptable. In fact, I would encourage it. Remember, it is the intent that matters most!