Choosing a Communication Approach

Deciding How to Communicate with Your Child

Adults and children communicate through language (e.g., English, Spanish, French, American Sign Language, British Sign Language). Babies and parents share a common language so that they can understand each other. Hearing babies begin to pay attention to language as soon as they are born. Deaf babies with deaf parents also begin to pay attention and learn as soon as they are born through sign language exposure.

When parents are hearing and their babies are deaf or hard of hearing, they need to find effective ways to communicate and model language for their babies.

  • The family must find a form of communication that everyone can understand.
  • Decisions about how to communicate in your family are very important to your child's early development.

Because each baby and family is different, the decision about how to communicate must be made carefully, based on your baby's and family's needs. Approaches vary in the amount of emphasis placed on listening, spoken language, and/or visual approaches. Sometimes one approach works for children. Sometimes combinations of communication styles are more appropriate.

Any decision will require commitment from you and from the professionals on your baby's team.  You may see people refer to this as "communication modality."  This means whether communication will be through auditory, visual, or combined methods. The list of common communication approaches below is ordered from most auditory to most visual. 

Auditory-to-Visual Communication Continuum

We often think of these approaches on a continuum from auditory (A) emphasis in learning to visual(V) emphasis in learning. By considering the child's unique learning strengths and needs, parents and communicators can use the best approach for the child. Children might start at one place on the continuum, and move along it as their needs change.

 

  • A and Av: place a lot of emphasis on learning to listen through the auditory (hearing) sense 
  • Av: A lot of listening practice with some visual support, like speech reading
  • AV: Equal emphasis on auditory and visual learning. This might be a child who is learning spoken language with the support of Cued Speech, or simultaneous use of sign and talking. 
  • VA and V: Some children learn best with more emphasis on visual communication. These might be children who mostly rely on sign, but also benefit from some auditory stimulation (VA), or primarily learn through American Sign Language (V). 

Communication Styles

Listening and Spoken Language (LSLS)

This type of program focuses on maximum use of hearing to develop speech and language. The approach fosters the reliance on spoken language for communication and learning.  Professionals seek specialty certification in LSLS from the Alexander Graham Bell Association

Oral/Aural communication approaches

Many programs emphasize development of listening and they may support that with visual cues from speechreading. Like LSLS, the primary goal is for the child to develop spoken language. Your baby will need good technology (hearing aids, cochlear implants), a quiet environment, rich language stimulation, and help from you and your infant/family specialist in order to develop speech and language through spoken language.

Cued Speech

This is a visual approach to communication that uses handshapes and placements in combination with the mouth movements of speech to make the sounds of spoken language look different from each other. For example, look in a mirror – if you turn off your voice and say "mom, pop, or Bob," you cannot tell these apart on the lips.  Cued Speech adds visual information to make these and many other confusable sound combinations clear.  Many sounds look alike on the face. Cued speech is a way of showing English clearly. More information about cued speech.

Manually Coded English (MCE)

Manually Coded English is a way of expressing the English language on the hands. Signs are used in combination with spoken English.  Some families use a manual code of English as a tool for learning English grammar and beginning to read. For long and complicated ideas, MCE is not always the best way to communicate visually; however, many hearing, English speaking parents use MCE with their babies.

American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language is the predominant sign language of the Deaf Community in the United States. Any idea that can be expressed in English can be completely expressed visually in ASL.  Parents who want to learn ASL benefit from meeting and interacting with people who are fluent in ASL.  To learn ASL efficiently, babies will benefit from access deaf adults who are fluent in ASL.   Bilingual-bicultural approaches include an emphasis on ASL, learning English, and learning about Deaf cultural traditions and perspectives.

A Lot Depends On the Learning Needs of Your Child

Sometimes families will find a single form of communication works best, and other families may use more than one form. For example:

  • One family may choose listening and spoken language methods for a child who is going to receive a cochlear implant at one year of age. Another family in this situation may sign to the baby until the implant is received, and then transition to spoken language approaches.  Others may sign before and after the cochlear implant.
  • A baby with both deaf and hearing family members may learn sign language while using residual hearing to develop spoken language.
  • Another child may speak clearly but do best with an educational interpreter in noisy settings, like in school.

Resources