Total Communication


These are some of the questions we frequently get asked.

Will signing stop my child from talking?

There is evidence showing that signing promotes speech, as it takes the pressure off the child to respond verbally.  Whilst concentrating on signing, quite often a child will vocalise without consciously having to think about it, with a greater degree of success than being put ‘on the spot’.  There is also evidence that children who are encouraged to sign and see others signing to them, make more attempts to initiate communication to others than children who are not exposed to signing.

What is the difference between the signing you promote through the website and British Sign Language?

The signing we use in Special Schools is very much based on having simple signs alongside speech, and whilst all our signs come from BSL, we use them very differently.  BSL is a language in its own right, with its own grammar and uses a different word order to spoken English.  The signing we use is very much adapted to be suitable for children and adults who have communication difficulties associated with learning difficulties.

I feel silly signing at school, as I am the only member of staff who does.

Good for you!  Do you find that the children who need signing respond better to you than to others who don’t sign?  We find that our pupils are much more likely to sign to visitors if the visitors sign to them first – otherwise they appear to feel that there is no point, as they won’t understand!  In our schools, where signing is a valued method of communicating, our pupils know that signing helps them to be understood and expect staff to know it.  It is important for signing to be a two-way method of communication.  If you demonstrate by example how it is working for you, hopefully other staff will follow suit.  Do other pupils use signing to communicate with those who need it?  If not, suggest to your Senior Management that perhaps signing needs to be a focus in school, to promote the inclusive ethos.

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Where do I find a sign that I don’t know?

On the website there are references to resource books from Makaton, Communication Link and Signalong, with a huge range of vocabulary.  If you need a sign that you cannot find elsewhere, it is possible to contact Makaton or Signalong and ask them directly.

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I want to use Baby Signing with my infant.  Shall I just buy one of the books available?

It would be a good idea to use our signing system, as it is based on BSL.  Many of the books available commercially are based on American Sign Language, which is different.  If you adopt the same system we use in special schools, then any time in years to come you, or your child, want to communicate with people who use signing, you will be prepared!

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I think my child needs Speech and Language Therapy.  How do I arrange this?

Contact your nearest NHS Speech and Language Therapy Department, who will advise you on the most appropriate way for you to access a therapist.

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How do I get my child a Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA)?

If your child needs a VOCA, he/she should already be under the guidance of a Speech and Language Therapist, who will be able to advise you.

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My child doesn’t sign accurately; does this matter?

No, the important thing is for your child to be attempting to communicate with you.  Continue to model the correct sign and praise every effort your child makes.  Record how he/she signs for each of the words in his/her vocabulary on the Communication Passport, so that everyone around your child knows what to expect and is able to recognise his/her signs.

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Do I have to speak and sign at the same time?

Yes, always, as signing reinforces speech, helping the child understand the meaning of the words.

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How can I get some symbols for my child?

Every school in Gloucestershire, Primary and Secondary, has been given 2 licences of Communicate in Print, so you could approach your school and ask.  On our website there are printable symbols showing places in the community that you might want to create a timetable for activities at home.  If you have a child of pre-school age and attending an enhanced Children’s Centre, ask them. Before you buy any resources yourself, please take advice from your child’s Speech and Language Therapist.

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How can I get some help for an adult?

You can contact Bronwen Carless by email on, as she is the contact for Total Communication for Adults with Learning Difficulties, or Nicky Partridge on or by phone on 01452 321056.

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We hope you have found these questions/answers useful.  If there are any other questions you would like included on this page, contact us.