Does total communication facilitate language comprehension in young children with developmental delays?

Date of Completion

January 1994


Speech Communication|Education, Early Childhood|Education, Special|Psychology, Developmental




Total communication (speech in combination with various amounts and types of sign language) has been widely used with hearing persons who exhibit severe communication disorders. However, there is little research concerning the use of total communication with young children in child-centered, naturalistic environments currently considered to be best practice in early intervention. In addition, most studies have focused only on speech and/or sign production. Comprehension development has been virtually ignored in persons who are using various types of augmentative communication, including total communication. The purpose of this study was (1) to compare the impact of using total communication versus speech-only communication in a naturalistic, play-based intervention on the comprehension of select vocabulary in young children with a variety of developmental delays; and (2) to explore whether age, diagnosis, levels of communication and adaptive functioning were related to gains in vocabulary comprehension.^ Twenty-seven children with normal hearing and developmental delays of varying etiology served as subjects. Subjects were divided into two groups based on age: one group (N = 13) consisted of children aged 3-7; the second group (N = 14) consisted of children aged 1 ${1\over 2}$-2. Three equivalent groups of unfamiliar words and their corresponding signs (3 nouns and 3 verbs in each group) were the intervention targets. Subjects were assigned one group of words to be taught in speech-only, one in total communication, and one group as a control (no intervention). Intervention consisted of intensive modeling of targets within the naturalistic environment of the classroom.^ Results indicated that gains in comprehension for the total communication words were significantly higher than for speech-only targets. Gain scores in both total communication and speech-only modes were significantly higher than for control words. Although not statistically significant, the effect was stronger for the younger group. There was little relationship between gains in vocabulary comprehension and child characteristics such as diagnosis, levels of receptive and expressive communication, and adaptive functioning. The results of this study confirmed strongly that total communication strategies should be implemented early on with young children at risk for communication delays. ^