ERIC Identifier: ED414677
Publication Date: 1997-08-00
Author: Hawkins, Larry - Brawner, Judy
Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Total
Communication. ERIC Digest #559.
Total communication (TC), a term coined by Roy Holcomb in 1967, is the title
of a philosophy of communication, not a method (Scouten, 1984). Total
communication may involve one or several modes of communication (manual, oral,
auditory, and written), depending on the particular needs of the child. The
original expectation of TC was for teachers to use the communication method(s)
most appropriate for a particular child at a particular stage of development.
Therefore, there would be situations when spoken communication might be
appropriate, other situations where signing might be appropriate, others that
would call for written communication, and still others where simultaneous
communication might work best (Solit, Taylor & Bednarczyk, 1992).
Total communication seemed to be the bridge that allowed a crossover from an
oral-only philosophy to a philosophy that embraced sign language. During the
1970's and 1980's most schools and programs for children who are deaf, as well
as most major organizations in the field supported the TC philosophy. Today,
although the debate seems to be between TC programs and bilingual-bicultural
programs, "simultaneous communication is the most common form of communication
used in educational settings for deaf children" (Kaplan, 1996, p. 469).
WHO CAN CHOOSE A TOTAL COMMUNICATION OPTION?
TC may be used
by families and educators. Since over 90% of parents of children who are deaf
have hearing themselves (Moores, 1996; Rawlings & Jensema, 1977), many
believe that TC is a philosophy that will allow flexibility without eliminating
any of the options. By using a total approach of speaking and signing, all
members of the family, those who are deaf as well as those who are hearing, have
continuous access to the communication occurring in their environment (Baker,
Teachers may choose to provide TC options in their classrooms. Those who
choose this approach have the responsibility and obligation of acquiring the
skills necessary to meet all of the child's communication needs.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A TOTAL COMMUNICATION
Most learning occurs through interaction with other people. Such
learning is possible only when individuals are able to communicate with
understanding. Likewise, the quality of the relationship between a child and her
or his parents is dependent on the quality of communication existing between
them. Thus, the choice of communication modes/methods that will be the most
effective and beneficial to a child at home and in the classroom is of utmost
The main benefit of TC is that it can open all avenues and modes of
communication for the deaf child. Parents and teachers might be reluctant to
choose one mode of communication over another. TC, however, allows a variety of
combinations. Research studies have repeatedly demonstrated the beneficial
effects of total communication in all areas of deaf children's development,
whether psychosocial, linguistic, or academic (Vernon & Andrews, 1990). If
the effectiveness of communication is more important than the form it takes
(Kaplan, 1996), then TC is beneficial because it allows the child to use the
form that is best for him in any given situation.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS OF A TOTAL COMMUNICATION
One limitation of TC is that, while the theory may be sound, it
may not be put into practice accurately enough in some situations. Many students
who are deaf are immersed in a form of simultaneous communication that does not
match their level of linguistic (language) readiness or ability. In the
classroom, TC often becomes a simultaneous practice of combining manual
components (signs and fingerspelling) with spoken components used in English
word order. Although TC educational programs will differ on the selection of a
manual system, all seem to combine signing with speech. The very nature of the
two modes (spoken and visual) may cause signers/speakers to alter their messages
to accommodate one or the other mode, causing a compromise between the two
methods (Wilcox, 1989). Although the idea of individualization is at the heart
of TC, teachers are limited to how many different modes they can use at one
time. It may be impossible for one teacher to meet all the communication needs
that might be present in a single classroom of children who are deaf and hard of
hearing. For example, do the students really see a good representation of either
English or ASL when the teacher or parent uses them inconsistently, or are they
seeing only poor examples of broken English or ASL? Researchers do not agree as
to whether a manually coded English system leads to better reading and writing
scores (Mayer & Lowenbraun, 1990).
WHAT ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE CHOOSING THIS OPTION?
Most members of the Deaf culture in the United States use
American Sign Language. Will children in a TC program be
able to communication with members of the Deaf culture?
Can English be represented fully with sign language?
If TC is chosen as an option and signing is a part of that option,
what kind of signing will be used? Are there benefits in using
an English-based sign system? What are the benefits of ASL?
Can ASL be an option in a TC program?
Can one talk and sign ASL at the same time without one
having a negative effect on the other?
How can a teacher who talks and signs English meet the
needs of children who sign ASL?
Can parents more readily learn signed English or ASL?
Baker, S. (1994). A resource manual of deafness.
Sulphur, OK: Oklahoma School for the Deaf.
Kaplan, P. (1996). Pathways for exceptional children. Minneapolis, MN: West
Lowenbraun, S., Appelman, K., & Callahan, J. (1980). Teaching the hearing
impaired through total communication. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.
Mayer, P. & Lowenbraun, S. (1990). Total communication use among
elementary teachers of hearing-impaired children. American Annals of the Deaf,
Moores, D.F. (1996). Educating the deaf. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Rawlings, B.W., & Jensema, C.J. (1977). Two studies of the families of
hearing impaired children. (SER.R.No.5) Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Office
of Demographic Studies.
Scouten, E. (1984). Turning points in the education of deaf people. Danville,
IL: The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc.
Solit, G., Taylor, M., & Bednarczyk, A. (1992). Access for all.
Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
Vernon, M. & Andrews, J. (1990). Psychology of deafness. New York, NY:
Wilcox, S. (1989). American deaf culture. Silver Spring, MD: Linstok Press.
The majority of public school programs practice the TC (simultaneous) method.
Information on TC and TC programs can be obtained from most State departments of
education. A teacher or administrator from a school for students who are deaf
may provide valuable insight. Many national organizations have position papers
concerning TC, although many have discarded them as being outdated, and the
American Annals of the Deaf has published numerous articles on this topic. The
best source to consult, however, may be another parent who has used this option.