Communication Systems for Deaf Children

Deaf children need to learn communication systems to reinforce their learning of oral language. In this article, we explain the most used ones.
Communication Systems for Deaf Children
Ana Couñago

Written and verified by the psychologist Ana Couñago.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

To promote and reinforce the learning of oral language in deaf children, it’s important to teach them communication systems. For this reason, we prepared this article on communication systems for deaf children.

The decision to use one system over another is up to each individual family. The parents of deaf children should take their children’s characteristics into account and learn about all the available options before making a decision.

Communication systems for deaf children

Communication systems, also called augmentative and alternative communication methods, include speech therapy and educational intervention instruments. These communication systems are comprised of a structured set of non-verbal codes. They allow deaf children to communicate in a functional, spontaneous, and general way.

There are two types of communication systems:

  • With help. They require technical and external resources.
  • Without help. The person needs to use their own body and no external elements intervene.
Communication Systems for Deaf Children

We should note that deaf children must use communication systems without help as a reinforcement to facilitate their communication. Therefore, below, we present the main systems used by this group.

Types of communication systems for deaf children

Sign language

This is a communication system for deaf children that supports their oral language. It allows them to establish a communication channel with their social environment. Sign language is a non-vocal modality of verbal language, based on the following signs:

  • Manual.
  • Corporal.
  • Expressive.
  • Lip.

Likewise, sign language is comprised of signs that can be:

  • Arbitrary. Their meaning can only be extracted if the language is known.
  • Iconic. Meaning that a person who doesn’t know the meaning of the sign can guess it.

We need to note that sign language isn’t universal. Differences exist between some countries and others. In fact, there can even be different dialects in the same country.

Bimodal bilingualism

Bimodal bilingualism consists of the use of oral and visual elements to communicate. In other words, it consists of the simultaneous use of oral language and sign language. Such signs are normally drawn from the lexicon of sign language.

The use of gestures favors the understanding of messages in deaf or hard-of-hearing children, since they usually have a hard time developing auditory memory. But if the verbal message is accompanied with the corresponding signs, it also takes advantage of their visual memory, which is usually of better quality.

This communication strategy doesn’t have certain implementation rules, so the methodology and signs the child uses depends on their characteristics.

Cued speech

Cued speech is a communication system that combines lip reading with hand shapes known as cues. Thus, these specific gestures have no meaning apart from lip reading. They act as a complement to the speech and acquire meaning when combined with it.

Communication Systems for Deaf Children

Cues consist of three components:

  • Hand positions relative to the face, which represent vowels.
  • Hand shapes, which distinguish consonants.
  • A hand shape and a hand position (a “cue”), along with the accompanying mouth shape, makes up a CV unit, which is a basic syllable.


Fingerspelling is a communication system for deaf or hard-of-hearing children that consists of the manual representation of each of the letters of a writing system. Thus, a specific hand shape corresponds to a letter of a writing system.

Therefore, it consists of tracing letters in the air instead of writing them down on paper. People who use it do so with their dominant hand at chin height. Also, those who use it complement it with oral language. This means that the face and mouth must be visible.

Thus, through fingerspelling, any word can be transmitted to deaf people, however complicated it may be. In fact, it’s often used to spell proper names and other words that can’t be expressed with a specific sign.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Martín, E. M. (2010). Los sistemas alternativos y aumentativos. Pedagogía Magna, (5), 80-88.
  • Marchesi, Á. (2012). Desarrollo y educación de los niños sordos. En Á. Marchesi, J. P. González y C. Coll (Ed.), Desarrollo Psicológico Y Educación: 3. Trastornos Del Desarrollo Y Necesidades Educativas Especiales (pp.241-269). Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Vilches, V. J. (2005). La dactilología, ¿qué, cómo, cuándo…?. Córdoba: Universidad de Magisterio Sagrado Corazón.
  • Villalba, A. y Ferrández, J. A. (1996). Atención educativa de los alumnos con necesidades educativas especiales derivadas de una deficiencia auditiva. Generalitat Valenciana.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.