______________________ Total Communication


What is Total Communication?

Our pupils have learning and communication difficulties. It is important to be aware of their difficulties with communication and adapt our communication and the environment to give individuals the greatest opportunity to understand and communicate. This entails looking at communication in its broadest sense and giving the person as many resources and opportunities as possible to understand and convey their message.
This holistic way of considering communication is called ‘Total Communication’. The Total Communication approach is about using the right combination of communication methods for an individual to ensure the most successful forms of contact, information exchange and interaction. It is a way of optimising an individual’s potential and reducing the extent of their communication difficulties.
Communication is a two-way process, it involves one person giving a message to another person, who is the receiver. When the receiver gets that message, they send back a response. The modes of communication used by a person with communication difficulties will not necessarily be the same as they need their communicative partners to use. For example, an individual might need to receive information via speech and signs while expressing themselves using signs and symbols.


Why working visually helps?

Most of our pupils are thought to be visual learners and so presenting information in a visual way:
  • provides a focus and adds reinforcement;
  • supports the ability to process and retain information accurately;
  • supports problem-solving ability;
  • provides structure and routine.
Visual strategies can be used in a multitude of ways to enhance understanding, expression and problem-solving.


What are the different modes of communication?

The Total Communication approach makes use of the following modes of communication:
  • written words and/or drawings;
  • objects of reference;
  • photos/symbols of reference, for example with timelines, visual sequences, choice boards, cue cards, visual countdowns and social stories;
  • use of non-verbal communication: gesture, body language and the voice;
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), which are forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas;
                                                   * unaided forms of AAC that do not require an external tool – for example signing systems;
                                                   * aided AAC which are any device, either electronic or non-electronic, that is used to transmit or receive messages – such aids range from communication books to speech generating devices;
  • eye-gaze and partner assisted scanning systems.


What should be taken into consideration?

  • If the Total Communication is being used then it must be tailored specifically to the individual and take account of their communication strengths, difficulties and needs. Total Communication is the key to inclusion.
  • Total Communication has to be used consistently by all those supporting.
  • Visual support tools and devices need to be easily accessible in all environments.
  • The language used must take account of an individual’s keyword understanding and the amount of information they can retain and process at one time.
  • Sufficient time needs to be given to allow the person to process the language and the other modes of communication used to support.
  • Total Communication should be used to encourage and not force communication.
  • All modes of communication should only be used in context and in situations that have meaning to the person. Always make use of environmental cues and build on these, for example, objects, people, pictures, logos, colours, noise and texture.
  • Be flexible and adapt how a message is given if it was not understood in the first instance. Provide the individual with other ways of responding if they are struggling.
  • There should always be back-up sets of visual resources if an individual is dependent on them.
  • The environment needs to take account of an individual’s sensory profile and must be conducive to encouraging communication.
  • Shared attention has to be achieved before initiating any interaction with an individual.


What is the school’s approach to Total Communication?

At Riverside Bridge School, we provide a structured, engaging and stimulating place for our pupils to learn. Each pupil is an individual and has their own preferred way of communicating either verbally or non-verbally.
The focus areas of our Total Communication approach are:
  • Verbal Communication
  • Objects of Reference (OOR), Visual Symbols and Transitions
  • Structured approaches to teaching
  • Signing – Makaton
  • Core Vocabulary
  • Communication Boards
  • How we model language for development
  • Sensory supporting Environment
  • Intensive Interaction and Adult-Child Interaction
  • Attention Bucket
  • Pupil communication profiles and SLC plan