Minnesota Hands and Voices


Communication Opportunities

Types of Communication

One of the first challenges parents face when they learn that their child is deaf or hard of hearing is: how is our family going to communicate effectively? That task can seem overwhelming. With all the valuable advice professionals offer, that final decision about communication is the family's decision. In choosing what is best for the child, consider what appears to make the most sense based on the child's amount and quality of residual hearing and what works well for the family. No two children are alike; therefore, their communication choices will vary, too.

Also, a child's needs may change over time. Changing or modifying communication choices is not uncommon for families. Adapting the use of two methods is not unheard of. Responding to your child, staying informed of new research, being open minded and flexible, and talking to other parents and adult role models are all advised.

Aural-Oral Communication

Aural-Oral Communication places the emphasis on the use of speech, residual hearing and in some cases, speechreading (lipreading.) Early identification of hearing loss, consistent use of optimal amplification during all waking hours, assistive listening devices or use of cochlear implants is critical to following this philosophy since the child needs to understand the spoken word.


 This approach combines speech, use of residual hearing and speechreading. The child will be trained to use his or her hearing and develop expressive speech. The goal of this approach is to have the child mainstreamed into the child's regular school after having completed an oral deaf/hard of hearing special education program.

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 This method has many of the same traits as the Auditory-Oral approach; however, it does not emphasize speechreading. The child is taught to listen first and is not required to look at the speaker's mouth for information. Often, the child is mainstreamed from the start in a typical preschool rather than a special self-contained oral program.

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Manual Communication

Manual Communication is conducted through use of a visual/gestural communication, which can be accompanied by speech or used alone. There are huge differences between the various languages and systems that are sometimes grouped together as "sign language." The following should help clarify these differences:

American Sign Language (ASL)

ASL is the visual/gestural language used by many people in the Deaf community in the United States and Canada. It is a language itself and not a visual representation of English. It has its own grammar and syntax and incorporates the use of facial expressions and body movements. Speaking while using ASL is virtually impossible because it does not follow English word order.

In order to properly acquire ASL skills, it is necessary to take classes and gain exposure to native signers. Supporters of a bilingual/bicultural approach to learning believe that ASL is a deaf child's natural language and English should be introduced as a second language.

For more information on ASL:

Pidgin Signed English (PSE)

This is the use of ASL signs, but in English word order. Not all the English words are represented. It is used typically so that speech can accompany the use of sign. This is a considered a form of simultaneous communication (sim-com) or sometimes referred to as Total Communication (TC).

Signed English, Seeing Essential English (SEE I), and Signing Exact English (SEE II)

These are all systems referred to as Manually Coded English. They were developed to visually represent each English word in its correct tense through signs and invented gestures. The theory is that by showing each English word, children will have an easier time learning to read and write in English.

For more information on Signing Exact English (SEE II):

Cued Speech

Cued Speech is a visual communication system that breaks down English syllable by syllable to visually represent what is being spoken. Since not all speech can be easily understood by speechreading alone, Cued Speech makes visual distinctions between easily confused mouth movements. This method can be used to cue any spoken language. Cued Speech was designed to enhance literacy in deaf children by exposing them to the phonetics of language.

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