Support for deaf children aged 0 to 5 years: Guide

Hitchins, A. Lewis, S. Holmans, A. Grover, A. Wakefield, T. Cormier, K. Rowley, K. Macsweeney, M. | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Total Communication

In the NDCS booklet, Communicating with your Deaf Child, the following explanation of Total Communication is given:

“The Total Communication philosophy is one which uses any and all types of communicating with deaf children.  This might include some form of signing (most usually Sign Supported English ), speech and hearing, gesture, body language, facial expressions, touch, and sometimes pictures, photographs or objects of reference (see chapter 11) in combination.  No form of communication is excluded.  Underlying this philosophy is the belief that language is both visual and auditory and children are encouraged to use both signing and speech at the same time.  It is a very flexible approach to communication; different users use it in different ways.  The main aim is to get the meaning across in whatever way works best for individual children.”

Total Communication gives parents and settings across the country the ability to choose the best mode of communication to allow each individual child to communicate their thoughts and ideas with others.  Total Communication enables Speech and Signs to match each other simultaneously, and it enables the child’s contribution to be verbalised giving them practice of using their voices.  However, it does require a very skilled workforce within the setting.

Within the Total Communication ethos in one Hearing Support Service in England, spoken language is prioritised wherever possible, but they also work with families and children for whom that is not the choice. For those children who would otherwise be unable to access all that the teacher is teaching, Sign Supported English is used. For more details of how this Total Communication ethos works in practice,  click here.

Sign Supported English is often used in the UK, as part of a Total Communication system.  Sign Supported English takes the signs from British Sign Language and uses them in the order that the words would be spoken in English.  This means that a working knowledge of the signs for different words is needed in order to understand and use Sign Supported English, but the more complex grammar is not, and voice can be used at the same time.  For more information, see Sign Supported English.

Here is an example of  some research showing the benefits of using sign alongside speech with implanted children.

The term Total Communication is used more widely than solely with deaf children.  It is also used with those with other special needs, which may include deafness.

The 'icommunicate Speech and Communication Therapy' website provides a more global view of total communication, used with children with different special needs.   SENSE explains its view of Total Communication for those with deafness and visual difficulties.