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Total Communication: Learning to Use Different Communication Methods

Read this page to learn what total communication is, and if it's right for your child.

What total communication (TC) is

  • TC is a way of teaching children with hearing loss.
  • TC encourages children with hearing loss to communicate with hearing people and each other.
  • TC uses both seeing and hearing to communicate.

A child who is taught using total communication may learn many skills:

  • Listening by using what hearing she has left
  • Communicating with sign language
  • Talking
  • Getting her ideas across with gestures and body language
  • Understanding others through reading lips, listening and/or sign language
  • Learning cued speech. Cued speech is a system of special handshapes and positions used when someone talks. It helps a person with hearing loss understand when someone speaks.

As a child's skills grow, she may switch from one way of communicating to another. For example, as a child learns to speak, she may use sign language less often so others can understand her better.

What happens in a TC program
All TC programs are not the same:

  • In some TC programs, teachers and children always speak and sign at the same time. This is called simultaneous communication, or simcom.
    • These programs encourage children to use the hearing they have left.
    • These programs encourage children to talk and learn language.
    • These programs usually follow a signing system based on English.
  • In some TC programs, teachers emphasize learning language.
    • Teachers may sign without speaking at the same time.
    • Teachers may spend less time on using the hearing that is left and talking.
    • These programs may use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL does not match spoken English.

How learning the total communication method affects children's lives

  • TC gives children the tools they need to understand others. They also learn how to be understood at a very young age.
  • TC makes communicating less frustrating.
  • TC helps children learn by giving them language.

How to choose a program
Start with these questions when looking for a TC program:

  • Do the teachers speak or sign, or both?
  • If they sign, what kind of sign language do they use? Do they use ASL or English-based signs? How do you feel about their choices?
  • Do all teachers use the same amount of speaking and signing?
  • Do they have any services to help parents learn sign language?
  • Do they have any services for other members of the family?
  • How closely do parents and staff work together?

What other parents say
Read what other parents said about communication choices.

How to find a total communication program in your area
Call your local school district and any deaf schools in your area. They can tell you if there's a TC program near you.

Learn more about total communication

  • Deaf Linx tells you about the good and bad points of total communication.
  • ERIC Digests describes total communication. This page also gives you questions to ask when choosing a program.

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National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
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