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Body Signing: A new dimension of communication for students who are deafblind and/or multi-sensory impaired

Sandy A Joint


The development of communication has always presented unique challenges to educators of students who are deafblind and/or multi-sensory impaired. As a result of this a variety of approaches have developed. These have ranged from traditional linguistic based systems such as finger spelling and tactile signing to non-linguistic approaches such as object symbols and touch clues.

This booklet focuses on tactile signing approaches and, more specifically, the development of a new approach that emphasises “body signs” to develop initial language concepts. To date the main forms of tactile signing presented to these students have been co-active signs and hand-over-hand signs. Both of these systems have inherit difficulties that reduce their effectiveness when used to introduce tactile signs to students who are deafblind and do not have language.

Tactile signs can be presented as:

In the case of “co-active” signing both of the student’s hands must be manipulated to form a signing or fingerspelt shape. To undertake this task the student’s hands must be taken away from the object or experience being communicated about. This severs the relationship between the concept, object or action with the signed word that is being used to develop communication. Added to this difficulty are problems associated with the invasive feeling when full co-active signs are demonstrated. This has resulted in many students rejecting the manipulation that is needed to produce signs. The frustration of trying to “wrestle” with the student to develop communication puts strains on the interactive relationship that is needed between the student and their teacher and/or parent carer. This results in all but the hardiest and most determined communicators “giving up” trying to do tactile signing with the student.  

In the case of a student who is deafblind who also has an intellectual and/or physical impairment, co-active signing reduces the student’s ability to understand that they are a separate entity in the environment, capable of independent communication. This difficulty comes from the fact that many students who are deafblind with multiple impairments have not reached the developmental level where they can understand that they are separate from the environment and other people. Also the motivating force that is needed to encourage the student to communicate is diminished because someone always moves their hands when communication is necessary.

“Hand-over-hand” signing presents a different set of challenges for students without language. As tactile discrimination of signs presented hand-over-hand is a very fine discriminatory skill, one of the primary difficulties comes from problems associated with developmental delay. For example, many students without language still have reflex grasps, or dislike people opening their hands. They have also not developed an understanding of why there is a need to focus on and attend to signs.

This paper presents an approach that reduces many of the difficulties of previous tactile signing systems. This approach has been given the name “body signs” to identify it as a distinct form of tactile signing.

This approach has been designed specifically for the student who is congenitally deafblind and adults who have not acquired language, and present as extremely developmentally delayed. This approach would also assist students with multiple impairments, especially those who have cortical visual impairment and auditory processing difficulties.

What is body signing?

Body signing is both a tactile communication system and a methodology designed to develop language for students who are deafblind who have no, or extremely limited, expressive language.

This communication system involves the communicator pointing, drawing or making varied hand shapes and movements directly onto the face, arms, torso or legs of the student. In many ways body signing is like an elaborate system of touch clues. The difference is that the body signs are consistent and standardised because they are based on a traditional manual signing system. Unlike touch clues, body signs can be presented as a symbolic form of communication similar to co-active signing and hand-over-hand signing, i.e. body signs can be presented in sentence form.

The idea of presenting tactile prompts or signals on the body is not new and has been done for many years. Tactile prompts have for a long time been recognised as an effective way of informing students. Many effective educators of the deafblind have talked about the need to provide “signals” that touch the student to let them know what is happening, including Freeman (1975), McInnes (1982), Van Dijk (1986) and Chen (1995). These signals have been referred to as touch clues or signals (Van Dijk, Chen & McInnes), or gross signs (Freeman).

 “The most effective signals are those that centre around the body. We have found that tapping on the mouth for food is an ‘easy to learn’ signal” (Van Dijk, 1986, 378).

“The use of consistent touch clues, or tactile signals made in contact with the infant’s body, is essential. Touch clues tell the infant what to expect; for example a caress on the infant’s foot signals that a sock will be put on, and a touch on the baby’s lips indicate that it is mealtime.“ (Chen, 1995, 199).

For years people have incidentally used touch clues to communicate. Popular prompts that have developed as a way of communicating the fundamentals of an activity quickly are ‘food’, ‘drink’, ‘walk’, ‘stand’ and ‘toilet’. Unfortunately the number of touch clues has been limited by the fact that they are not related to a standardised signing system.

Unlike touch clues body signing is similar to co-active and hand-over-hand signing in that it provides a specific signing system, which is communicated through direct touch on the body, relates to a standardised signing system and can be used in a process similar to normal language acquisition.

Reasons for the development of the system

The development of body signing as a standardised communication system originated from work using a standardised system of tactile signs on a young lad who was born profoundly deaf and severely visually impaired (earliest reports indicate that this student had less than 2/60 visual acuity). The result was the development of a communication system and methodology of teaching that combined a variety of other tactile communication methods including finger spelling, one hand co-active signs, speech, models and Braille to maximise language and conceptual development.

The idea of extending body signing into a standardised signing system began in 1997. Standardisation of tactile signs was needed to overcome the growing trend of home signs, most of which were tactile prompts to communicate basic care and school activities. For instance, while providing advice to personnel associated with students who are deafblind it was observed that the signal of touching the top of a student’s shoulder was being used by different people in different settings to mean a variety of ideas. This touch has been used to indicate:

Needless to say much confusion can occur when there is no standardised touch clue system, especially when students must interact with many different personnel and in some cases personnel from a variety of settings.  This has lead to the problem that personnel working with these students must learn different sets of home signs to communicate with each individual student. The lack of standardisation has also meant that home signs can easily be presented inconsistently. This results in the non-verbal person being unable to effectively understand the relationship between the signal and concept being relayed. This reduces the possibility of understanding and hence language development.

The production of a systematic and standardised tactile signing system that can be accessed easily by all involved with a student who is deafblind, and presenting these signs in a booklet has been a way of developing consistency of tactile sign presentation to low function students, not only throughout Queensland but also Australia. Standardisation of tactile sign presentation makes it easier when students move between schools, community homes and transition to post school options, and reduces the difficulty that occurs with the many staff with whom the student interacts. It gives easier access to a consistent sign not only to parents but also professionals and carers.


The theory behind the body signing system of communication was the need to find the most effective method to communicate a tactile sign to a student, with the least possibility of misinterpretation, using a system that would cause the least amount of physical and mental stress on both the recipient and the communicator.

The system ensures that the presentation of the sign allows at least one of the student’s hands free to maintain contact with the environment, object or experience being communicated. As the student does not have to cease an activity and have both hands manipulated to communicate, there is a much greater probability of understanding the concept being communicated and, importantly, tolerance of the communication process.

Body signing teaching methodology is based on natural development. As a result, the first stages of the methodology concentrate on the development of receptive language. Receptive language with an infant is not automatic. It is learnt and takes time to master. Infants require over a year of intense receptive language input to express a few simple words that can be understood by those close to them.  With body signing the emphasis is on language immersion to “make the student ready”, rather than forcing signing shapes on the student before an understanding of what signed shapes mean or why they are needed.

Since the body signing method is designed for students who have no or extremely limited language, signs introduced are based upon:

A number of body signing booklets which provide advice are being developed to accommodate the heterogeneous needs and characteristics of students who are deafblind. For example, a student with multiple impairment confined to a wheelchair has different needs to a highly mobile school aged student who still does not have language. Each booklet gives ideas of which words are needed to start language and concept formation. Acknowledgment is given that some words will need to be changed to accommodate specific cultural, family, and environmental needs.  All booklets link to a dictionary of body signs.

Body signing is not only a communication system, but a methodology that incorporates speech and interactive learning and communication strategies that encourage experiential hands-on learning. Because the student who is deafblind is always able to have one hand free, real life objects, symbols and models are extensively encouraged. In addition body signing incorporates both adapted one handed co-active and hand-over-hand signs if these are deemed the easiest and the least invasive way of communicating. In this way communication can be maximised and both receptive and expressive language are developed.

How to make body signs

The key to body signing is being able to look at any manual sign and then decide how it could best be presented or adapted to form an effective tactile sign.

Signs made manually on or near to the body are the easiest to produce, as they simply involve bringing the hand in contact directly with the body. The adaptation usually involves the communicator using one hand to point, draw or make hand shapes directly onto the person who is deafblind, in the same or similar position as the manual sign.

The signs illustrated are based on the Australasian Sign Code, the communication system used in schools in the State of Queensland.


Body sign ‘orange’        ‘sausage’ on the arm            ‘cake’ on the hand

on the face,


‘shirt’ on the body         ‘pant’ on the leg

Signs can even be made on the student’s feet if necessary to assist communication intent.

e.g., shoe

To sign a sentence, a series of signs are produced:


e.g., ‘put shirt on’

Body Signing terms

There are many places and ways body signs can be made. The first thing that needs to be considered is to look at the existing manual sign and decide what will be the easiest way of presentation that would cause the least intrusion and provide maximum understanding.

There are five possible signing alternatives which the methodology and booklets refer to. These are:  

In the case of body signing a second consideration will be the positioning of the body signs. Alternatives include: face, head, neck, arms, hands, torso, legs, and feet.

This second consideration is usually governed by the existing position of the manual sign. In some cases it may be moved to give greater emphasis to the concept. For example, instead of signing ‘shoe’ on the hand it can be done on the foot of the student to provide greater conceptual linkage. Later when the student has reached the stage of independently and consistently expressing words the original manual sign can be taught to the student.

Co-active and hand-over-hand signs

Some signs are either not possible to do as body signs or they are easier to do as co-active or hand-over-hand signs. For this reason body signing methodology incorporates finger spelling, gesture, co-active and hand-over-hand signing.

Full co-active signs are only presented from behind a person when you are co-actively showing them an activity, otherwise they are present in front so facial expressions and responses can be seen.

Adapted signs

Some manual signs that use two hands or have very complex movements are impossible for developmentally delayed hands to do. These complex signs have had to be adapted to assist ease of presentation and also reduce physical rejection of signs by the student. To make it easy to eventually teach the original sign, the adapted sign incorporates as much as possible of the standardised manual sign. Signs that cannot be adapted this way focus on a gesture that will ensure the greatest possible chance of understanding. Gestures are used to try to incorporate some of the action that the word represents, and because they are a communication form which non disabled students use between the stages of beginning to understand the spoken word and the stage when they have developed the physical ability to be able to utter understandable sounds. For example, infants often shake their head, point, wave and hold their hands out as ways of communicating their understanding of the spoken word before they are able to speak.  In all adaptations the tactile signs are moved so they touch the body, and are made in such a way that they cannot be confused with other signs.

Another reason for tactile sign adaptation is to avoid confusion when tactile signs feel the same. For example, the signs “jump” and “vegemite”, if both produced exactly the same as the equivalent manual sign, would feel similar and would not provide sufficient feedback to differentiate between them. Sometimes adaptations or changes are needed to the original sign to make the sign kinaesthetically and tactually different to another sign that may feel similar. For this reason the “vegemite” sign is presented as a vibrating feeling on the student’s hand to give it more tactile clarity.

Adaptations are made purely on tactile reasons similar to those, which have occurred with tactile finger spelling. Adaptations are not an attempt to develop another sign language. Regardless of the type of adaptations, signs maintain as many elements as possible from the original manual sign. If modifications are made, they are made to assist understanding and ease of production and reading.

Reason for adaptations include:

Advantages of body signing

Body signs:

Body signs can be adapted to any sign code

As body signing is a way of presenting signs similar to co-active and hand-over-hand signing, they can be adapted to any signing code, e,g., Signed English, Auslan, Amslan, etc. This means the student’s vocabulary can easily be expanded as they develop language skills. By using a standardised code there is a greater chance of people being able to communicate, as the person only has to learn the methodology of tactile signing and then apply it to the manual system they know. Because body signs are systematised and based on a standardised manual signing system they will be intelligible to not only those interacting with the student but to anyone who knows the manual sign language of that country. This gives the student greater opportunity to interact with anyone who knows how to sign, including the deaf community.

Body signs are easy to produce

The greatest advantage of body signing is the ease and speed at which signs can be produced. This is because the method looks for the easiest way to produce a sign so that a person who is deafblind will understand it, rather than just using a particular communication mode. For example, some methodologies insist on using only full co-active signing, or only tactile finger spelling etc. The emphasis on using only one methodology can further restrict communication.

The body signing methodology in many ways could be called an eclectic approach because it uses all types of communication modes, rather than one particular approach. It is the flexibility of the system in sign production, combined with the variety of locations they can be made on the body that ensures recognition of difference is enhanced. This reduces possible misinterpretation and ensures greater understanding.  More importantly many of the easiest body signs are those most appropriate to fostering language development.

Body signing is a complementary communication system

As noted previously, body signing is not meant to be used by itself, but is a complementary communication system. For this reason it is meant to be used in conjunction with other forms of communication, particularly speech, gestures and alternative communication systems such as object symbols and models. It relies on the need for good experiential and active learning programs.

Infants and young children happily tolerate body signs

In the early stages of body signing nearly all of the most significant signs are produced directly onto the body. This means minimal manipulation of the student is needed. This has been a bonus in assisting the many young deafblind babies who often do not like the manipulation that occurs with full co-active signing. Co-active signing in the very early stages often results in a student who screams or pushes away when attempts are made to communicate. Sometimes this can result in tactile defensive behaviours or behavioural difficulties. These difficulties can cause communication difficulties that are sometimes almost impossible to eradicate. The body signing option allows many of these to be reduced or even eradicated.

Body signing on babies and infants also overcomes some of the difficulties of tactile finger spelling onto tiny hands or hands that are still developmentally in fist formation. These difficulties also cause problems for co-active and hand-over-hand methodologies. Body signing allows the student to be passive and relaxed when receiving communication.

Older students without communication

Body signs can be used on older students and adults who do not have communication. Even those who have been labelled “tactile defensive” or as behaviourally challenged do not appear to object to body signs. No student has as yet objected to the contact, in fact, most appear to enjoy the tactile contact it brings.

The results of body signing on people over thirty who have never had language have shown some interesting results.

Case 1

D. is an adult with no expressive or receptive language, presenting with severe behavioural difficulties. After one month using body signs, carers report that D. consistently demonstrates receptive understanding of signed sentence ‘Shower time’ by taking himself independently to the shower.

Case 2

M. has no expressive or receptive language. After one month of using some body signs M. consistently demonstrated receptive understanding of signed sentence ‘eat time now’ by taking the arm of the carer and pulling them to the fridge immediately after the sentence was signed.

Case 3

P. has no expressive or receptive language. After six months of body sign usage P. expressed independently two signs, “bread”, and “hello”.

Although in each case these may seem small strides, developmental progress in each case has been significant. The people appear happier, demonstrating less behavioural difficulties and showing a greater desire to interact with their environment and the people around them.

Body signing allows greater input

Because body signing is less fatiguing, communicators have more opportunities to “put in” language. This means it is easier to emphasise words and repeat sentences. 

At a beach excursion while trying to get a student who was very unwilling to move out of the water, it was possible to sign the following conversation in the space of few minutes:

“stand up home time now

Joe home now

water time finish

up yes (student shook head no -- it was hot and very nice in the water that day)

yes (student shook head no)

stand up

water time finish

no more water

home time now”

(student stood up and walked to the beach).

Communication can be instantaneous

Because of the speed at which body signs and their adaptations can be done communication is instantaneous. You can say and sign the related words or sentences while the student is experiencing the emotion, object, action etc. You do not have to wait for a person who is deafblind to stop an activity before you sign to them.

For example, when they are feeling an animal like a cat, or you are talking about a cat they are touching, you can be telling them about it.



‘you like cat’

‘cat little’     


In this way concepts are easier to associate with the signs. If the student is eating a particular food the name of the food can be signed repeatedly to the student. This means the student can learn the names of foods they do or do not like and help in the decision making process.

Signs can be produced on the student’s body to express feelings. For example, if a student is smiling, a smile sign can be drawn on to the student’s face to reinforce what the concept of smile is. If the student is crying, a cry sign can be used to express crying.

Body signs help develop positive responses that assist interaction and the bonding process

The student who is deafblind has the same emotional needs as everybody else. They need to feel loved and valued, and they need to be given the opportunity to develop a positive self image. The unfortunate part is that very rarely are they ever told the simple words: ‘I love you’, or ‘You’re beautiful’ in a communication mode the student can understand or relate to. This combined with problems associated with lack of eye contact and difficulties reading responses means distance can develop between the student who is deafblind and their carers/parents or others who may need to interact with them.

It is important in the early stages of body signing to emphasise the need to present positive signs that can assist interaction, body image and the bonding process. Some of the first body signs presented to young students are designed to assist this bonding process. Parents/carers are encouraged to say and sign words that are naturally used to promote bonds between themselves and their infant, e.g. love, cuddle, kiss. This allows parents and carers the opportunity to express their love for their child as well as promoting more positive responses from the child.

Body signs for feelings and expressions are also emphasised, e.g. “smile”, “cry”. Body signing  of expressions helps the student to appear more responsive, and promotes more normalised facial and body responses by the student that are easier for family and other personnel to identify and respond to. The more responsive the student the greater the degree of attention and interaction that will occur between the communicator and the student who is deafblind. This will foster the communication and language process.

Responses can be observed

Most full co-active signs made from behind the student are discouraging to the recipient. Body signing methodology believes it is important to be able to see the face and front of the child in order to be able to observe the small and subtle responses such as eye blinking, puzzled expressions, movement of fingers etc., that indicate intent to try to communicate or undertake an action independently. When signing from behind, these responses are missed and we can often continue to assist and prompt too long. Over prompting discourages motivation to communicate and become independent, The result can be a student who may become totally reliant on your reinforcement to attempt an action.

Emphasis and emotion can be put into signs

Similar to speech, emphasis and intonation can be put into body signs. For example, if you are about to go for a long walk, a ‘walk’ sign can be continued up the arm, over the shoulders, even down to the foot, and can be done in a very heavy, plodding way. By exaggerating and play acting with signs, more meaningful interpretations can be made and enjoyment of the conversation process can be achieved.

Receptive language is promoted

One of the major cornerstones for all language development is input. If you do not talk to a non disabled student they will not develop language. If you limit the language given to a non-disabled student to five or ten words, and only provide these a few times a day, they may or may not learn to use them. They will, however, because they are sighted and have hearing devise other ways of communicating, and develop basic skills. Students who are deafblind do not have this advantage and are totally reliant on the tactile input provided.

If you do not put language in you will certainly not get anything out. Body signing means putting language in, to make the student not only ready to communicate but wanting to communicate. 

Body signing can be akin to natural language acquisition because it initially focuses on the development of receptive language to make the student ready to produce language. There is reduced emphasis on the production of signs until the student shows signs of communication intent. This is similar to normal language acquisition in that we talk continually to a young child to develop language and do not physically force a child to move their lips to talk. Instead we provide language input, then when the child is ready they begin to experiment with sounds and later attempt to say words they hear around them. It is at this point we incidentally encourage them to make meaningful sounds and words to encourage speech production by repeating words and sounds more distinctly to them. Body signing encourages this same language acquisition process.

Students can be mobile

Most tactile communication modes rely on the person who is deafblind being stationary or nearly stationary when talking. Because body signs are less invasive and can be presented on a person while moving they allow a lot more liberty of movement and consequently enable language to be provided while moving. The person can continue an activity without interruption. This means casual communication can be feed in while the student is doing the activity so there is instant reinforcement of language and concepts.

If the student is climbing up a slippery dip you can do the signs ‘stairs up’ while they are going up, and later ‘slide down’ when they are sliding down the slippery dip.

It is possible to describe to the student what to do while they are doing an activity. For example when they are making a cake you can sign ‘put sugar in bowl’ etc.

Body signs assist students who have residual vision and hearing

Most students who are deafblind have some residual vision or hearing. Unfortunately because neither their vision nor their hearing is clear, the distortion caused makes life appear very confusing and frightening. Unlike the person with a single disability who can call on information from their remaining residual senses to piece together information gaps, a student who is deafblind cannot.

For example

A student with vision impairment uses hearing to:

A student with a hearing impairment uses vision to:

An additional dilemma that occurs for students who have some residual vision and hearing is the fact that people presume they can use their residual sight and hearing in the same way a sighted or hearing person can. This is because they respond to the approach of people and sounds, sometimes very soft sounds.

This is particularly difficult in the area of hearing loss. If they have any hearing, and especially if they wear hearing aids, there is a tendency to presume they can hear enough to understand speech. The problem is that hearing impaired students need visual clues to help them understand what is going on and what is being communicated around them. In the case of a student who is deafblind these visual clues are minimal or non existent.

To overcome these difficulties there is a need to capitalise on the senses the student still has available, in particular touch. Body signs will help the student to understand and focus on what they cannot interpret effectively. This in turn helps them to learn how to make use of their residual vision and hearing. The tactile input makes up for the reduced sensory input. As their language and conceptual development grows, their ability to use their residual senses increases. Because body signs are based on a manual system, they can easily be transferred to a manual signing system once the student has learnt to use their residual vision.

Body signs can be combined in short sentences

Body signs used with associated strategies can be made as quickly as most words can be said. This means signs can be combined to form sentences. The ability to be able to string words together enhances language and concept development. The methodologies of body signing recommend the use of short, simple sentences at first that are similar to the sentences parents use with babies when they first talk to them. Full sentences and grammar are only encouraged once the student as began to express language fluently.


love you

bed time

no no not yours

eat your biscuit.

Body signs can be combined with finger spelling

Perhaps the greatest advantage of body signing is the fact that many of the body signs that are made on the hand can be easily combined with finger spelling. These body signs can be continued later as a quick way to communicate a comment.

Less fatigue and backache is incurred

All tactile approaches are strenuous. No matter what system you use there will be bending, stretching and difficult posture requirements. Body signs are perhaps the least demanding physically because they can be done beside or in front of a person at a comfortable distance. This means there is less invasion of space and reduced overall contact. This encourages people to use signs, and reduces the fatigue of continual production. Signs are comfortable to use for both the sender and the receiver and don’t require any strenuous movements. Co-active and hand-over-hand signing put exceptional amounts of physical strain, on both the receiver and the sender.

Body signs are less invasive

Nobody likes the feeling of people right on top of them, particularly people we do not know very well. Although the student who is deafblind like to remain in contact with you the total contact that occurs in full co-active signing and sometimes in hand-over-hand signing can be too much. This overbearing feeling can also be too much for carers and interpreters. Body signing allows greater liberty and social distance, which helps to satisfy both the needs of the person who is deafblind and the carer.

Acts as a more precise warning system

Perhaps the greatest advantage of body signing and its strategies is that it provides a better and more precise warning system. This allows the student to anticipate what is about to happen to them, or know what they are about to eat or drink. The confusion of day-to-day activities and the fear of the unknown are thereby greatly reduced. Body signs help begin the process of associating meaning to an action or event.

Because there is greater warning there is less need for the student to be defensive. They can relax and focus on what they can hear and see. This in turn gives them more opportunities to understand the receptive language and concepts being presented.

Body signing promotes the development of well being

Body signing methodology assists the receptive understanding of sickness or pain, enabling students who are deafblind be able to express themselves when they are unwell or need help. The body signing methodology encourages carers to be observant and to tell the student when they are sick or sore. For example if the student has a runny nose the carer is encouraged to use the body signs, “nose sore”. If the student has a sore, red throat to sign “throat sore”, etc.

This helps the student to develop a concept of what sickness and pain mean. Eventually it is hoped that the student will be able to point to where they are sore, then sign ‘sore’.

Body image

Body image is a very important part of the developmental process. Initial body image concepts relate to the student’s understanding of their body in space and its interaction with the environment.  By touching various parts of the body and associating them with concepts, body image is enhanced. From an early age students who are deafblind become aware that their body consists of various parts and that they can move independently and separately from their carers. Body signing can also assist the development of sequential memory and spatial orientation. The use of short sentences helps to develop sequential memory and the use of all the body to communicate aids spatial orientation.

Body signs focus on the world and developmental needs of the student who is deafblind

Signs in each section focus on the objects, people and activities that the student comes into contact with. For instance the early intervention booklet focuses on things that are at arms reach or in contact with a young student’s body, and tastes, experiences, and interactions that occur naturally. As the student’s awareness of their environment increases, new body signs are introduced to assist in the learning process.

Final words

Body signing as a communication system has only recently been introduced to students in some Queensland schools and some post school residential settings. Introduction has been through a series of hands-on workshops where professionals have been shown not only how to use the technique but more importantly how to adapt signs. Some professionals and carers who have attended these workshops have begun to use some body signs. Although it is too early to see full effects, some very noticeable and positive results have begun to emerge, in particular, student compliance, fewer temper tantrums, positive developmental progress, and the emergence of consistent responses that indicate understanding of body signs.

Body signing has assisted these individuals by:

Body signs by themselves are only part of the solution to the complex task of developing language for students who are deafblind. To be effective, all communicators associated with the student who is congenitally deafblind, need to know how to use a variety of tactile communication systems and be fluent in the production and reading of signs and finger spelling. More importantly, communicators must also have the willingness and perseverance to use tactile signs and other communication systems constantly and continuously every day for many years. Without this knowledge, willingness, or perseverance no student, regardless of how good the communication system is, will learn language.  Without input, there will never be an opportunity for output.


Chen, D. (1995). The Beginnings of Communication: Early Childhood. In Hand in Hand: Essentials of Communication and Orientation and Mobility for Your Students Who are Deaf-Blind Volume 1. Ed. Huebner, K. Prickett, J., Welch, T., and Joffee, E., AFB Press, New York.

Freeman, P. (1975 ). Understanding the Deaf/Blind Child, Heinemann Health Books, London.

Mc Innes, J. & Treffery, J. (1982). Deafblind Infants and Children: A Developmental Guide, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Stemel and Schutz (1995). In Welcoming students who are deafblind into typical classrooms.

Thestrup, A.and Anderson, O. (1994). “Modified sign language for congenitally deafblind people”. In Deafblind Education Jan-June, pp16-17.

Van Dijk, J. (1986). An educational curriculum for deaf-blind multi-handicapped persons. In Sensory Impairments in Mentally Handicapped People Ed. D Ellis, Croom Helm, London

This dilemma of lack of standardisation of alternative communication methods has long been recognised

because of the inapt of multiple impairment it has long been recognised there is a need to modify signs. This has result in an abundance of different sets of home signs being developed.

Student who is deafblinds need to interact with many workers these wokers in turn interact with many students. the increase in the use of home signs the result is too many differnt ways  of doing one sign.

The need to standardise tactle or modified signs has been recognised as as main issue in the production of any modified sign this is because “Some studentswould therefore in the course of the day meet up to 5-6 different modified signs for the same word” (Thestrup and anderson, 1994, 16).

The need for a pictorial form that shows exactly how the communicator makes the sign onto a perosn who is deafblind as well as support information such as a description of how to make the sign and the original manual sign as ultimately this is the sign that will be used in the future.

for studentsthat have less sensation on one side of their body put signs on there better side

strategies reference book of past activities to look back at and contemplate past knowledge

It allows communication even if the hands of the student are occupied.

“Communication is achieved with great difficulty by the person who is deafblind and requires far greater effort by would-be communicators” (Tedder, Warden, Sikka, 1993,303). It is this greater degree of effort that often cause a break down in communication signs just become too hard to do especially on studentswith behavioural difficulties and inmature hand positions.

“The more disabled the person who is deafblind, the more likely that informal prelanguage methods will be used” (Tedder, Warden, Sikka, 1993,303).

Was is concerning despite their low functioning we call on them to criptically try and disciper the “conglomeration of inconsistent communication styles, which adds confusion to the already difficult process” (Tedder, Warden, Sikka, 1993,303).

Language development is complex and involves the concurrent development of all other domains of development. Progress in each domain facilitates more progress in other domains.   Delays in one domain will increase the likelyhood of delays in all other areas. These tend to magnify each other.

Studentsdo not have to be at the stage of being able to imitate sign shapes to participate in the body sign program

many preverbal studentsare before the stage of imitation

Even the language content is high level and does not consist of the normal content that is said to preverbal students

“the cognitive and motor skills of many deafblind adolecent students who are deafblind and have other severe impairments are still not at the point of imitation and many such students are not yet able to attend for significant periods” (Tedder, Warden, Sikka, 1993,304).

Touch clues to date have only been considered as a non verbal approavch ot communication

most touch clue have only consited of minimal touches. Body signs involve specific touches tha as much as possible parralee the the same shape as the manual sign.

“Physical contact (touching) is one nonverbal means of gaining or redirecting someones attention” (Tedder, Warden, Sikka, 1993,304-5).

Placing a hand on the students shoulder to annouce presence(Tedder, Warden, Sikka, 1993,305). This approach however to date has been seen as a non verbal approach and has not been expanded to encompass many signs.

It is difficult when using the hand-over-hand or co-active method for he person to percieve a sequence of fine movements of movements a sequence of fine movements are difficult to do co-actively with a student  in hand-over-hand signinsf  “the communicators hands are placed under the recievers” (Engleman, Griffin, Wheeler, 1998, 792)as a result it is sometimes necessary to move the receivers hand to clarify the message.

There has been many incidences where the use of touch cue has been found superior to developing receptive understanding of communicaiton

In stremel and schults, (1995) article on functional communication they note that touch cue were easily learnt p211.

Need for a system that can be used in different physical enviromnets with ease

“it is more time consuming to communicate at near distance”

problems with all tactle system “people have to learn the signs” (Stemel and schutz 1995 204)

the need for sensitivity to read behavioural intent ie body movement that indicate dilike of food given

infants initaly respond to events by changes in movement these early movemnts are both reactive and co-active ie the student takes the mothers hand and puts it on the bowl to indicat ethey want more food. 

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