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Total Communication

What is it?

Total Communication is about finding and using the right combination of communication methods and approaches for each child. The total communication approach supports children to successfully make their needs and wishes known in whatever way they can.  Adults respond to each child’s communications, which means that children often begin to recognise they have been understood. This encourages children to continue to extend and develop their communication skills.

Total Communication at Rowan Tree

 At Rowan Tree Primary School we use a total communication approach that supports staff and pupils to communicate with each other in the most effective way. We create a total communication environment by responding to the needs of individual children through amending our approaches to communication and by using combination of methods and approaches.


How do we do it

The methods and approaches used at Rowan Tree.

Intensive Interaction

At Rowan Tree we use Intensive interaction approaches with pre verbal children whose communication is at an early stage of development, and who often find it difficult to engage with others.  The sessions follow the child’s lead, are relaxed, and playful. The purpose is for children to enjoy communicating, improve their understanding of non-verbal and verbal communications and strengthen emotional connections and bonds with others.

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Signing Systems

Sign systems are not used to replace the spoken word. Staff use signs and /or  gestures ( informal signs)  to accompany the spoken word  to aid the children’s understanding of what is being said.  Most children use signs and gestures along with speech. A small number of children use only gestures, signs and symbols to communicate. All staff and pupils at Rowan Tree are taught  to use Signalong. Signalong is a key word sign-supported communication system. It uses speech, sign, gesture, facial expression and voice tone to link signs to the spoken word. Signalong is used to support the development of spoken language.


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Visual Supports: Objects; Pictures; and Symbols.

Objects, photographs and pictures are used throughout school and during all lessons to support children’s understanding and communication.  Pupils use the objects, pictures or symbols to make their needs known and to share their ideas. Like, signs these are used alongside the spoken word.   Pupils use visual supports in a number of ways, for example for timetables for the day, part of a day, or what is happening now and next.  Pupils can use activity related choice boards to select items needed for the activity, or to choose something to eat or play with.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, is a communication aid  that is used to support children with little or no spoken communication abilities to communicate using pictures or symbols. Children using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication.


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High Tech Communication Aids / Assistive Technology

Children may be assessed by the Speech and Language Therapist to see if they would benefit for the use of an iPad as a communication aid.  Only a very small number of pupils have a dedicated iPad, with relevant software to use as their individual communication aid. All pupils have access to iPads as part of the curriculum.

Some pupils use simple switches to activate devices with pre-recorded messages to support them to join in activities with others.

Language Level

Staff use language, signs or symbols at a level appropriate to the needs of the pupil. Some pupils understand single words, some short phrases and others complex sentences. Pupils are given plenty of time to process what has been said and to make a response.

Written Word

Some pupils communicate using the written word. They make their needs known writing or typing  words and phrases that they then share with others



Total Communication Media

Our Total Communication Media Team work with our children and staff to support, celebrate and share our Total Communication approach through the creation of multimedia videos. Click here to find out more about our Total Communication Media Projects.