A little girl reaching out to touch textured materials.


The Deafblind School supports a Total Communication philosophy.

Any and all means of communication are developed and encouraged each day. Language is modeled in the form of speech and sign language, and students are encouraged to use any combination of communication methods that work best for them. For our residential students, the Total Communication philosophy is carried out past the regular school day into the Perkins cottages and we collaborate with families to support communication skills at home.

Connecting with the world

At Perkins, we know the success of Total Communication starts with a sense of trust. That’s why our dedicated educators and staff spend many hours learning as much as they can about each child, while the child gets the opportunity to become comfortable being around the teacher.

Total Communication methods

Our holistic approach helps us meet each student at his or her own level of communicative ability, and may include any or all of the following:

Touch cues:

  • An important foundation for engagement
  • A way to get and give information
  • A prompt or a way for the student to know that staff is present in their space.
  • A physical guide to interact with an object.


  • Intentional physical motions or movements used to communicate with a partner.
  • A way for the learner to convey simple statements such as “I’m finished” or “I don’t want that.”


  • Often used to build communication skills with students.
  • Teachers will commonly begin by using a concrete, whole object (known as an “object of reference”) to represent an activity.
  • Once a student is familiar with the object and what it represents, teachers may introduce less specific objects or a portion of the original object to mean the same thing.

Tactile symbols:

  • Used to represent more abstract concepts, like a specific class or regular event.
  • Teachers select a tactile symbol that triggers the student’s memory of an individual experience, such as parents picking them up from school.

Pictures/Visual systems:

  • Photographs
  • Line drawings
  • Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbols (PCS)
  • Symbol Stix
  • Often used for communication with students who have some vision.


  • Commonly used to label within a school or work environment for students who are learning print-based communication skills.

AT/AAC low and high tech:

  • Assistive Technology (AT) and/or Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) devices can help students as they develop speech and language skills.
  • These devices range from low-tech single message systems, such as partner assisted scanning, to high-tech computer-based technology that requires training, including eye gaze technology.


  • Students are encouraged to use speech or other vocalizations to communicate with others if they are able.
  • Students’ speaking abilities range from a simple vocalization to the utterance of a single word to full sentences.
  • Speech is always modeled alongside other communication methods.


  • Many students use sign language — formations and movements of the finger, hands and arms — to communicate with teachers and peers.
  • Like speech, students are exposed to sign language in all of their activities
  • Students are encouraged to sign at whatever level they are comfortable with, building from approximations and single signs to three-sign utterances and full sentences.

Tactile sign language:

  • For students who are totally blind or have limited vision, tactile signing (signing while in physical contact with another person) allows them to feel the sign and better understand what is being conveyed.
A visually impaired girl and her teacher that are working with texture.

Discover the potential advantages of Total Communication for your child

A Total Communication environment is designed around a child’s individual strengths and needs. While there are many communication methods, knowing the best approach for your child is the key to success–and we can help!

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to the most common questions we receive.

Any and all means of communication are developed and encouraged throughout our Deafblind Program. Our holistic approach helps us meet each student at his or her own level of communicative ability, and may include any or all of the following:

Touch Cues, Gestures, Objects, Tactile Symbols, Pictures/Visual Systems, Print/Braille, Assistive Technology (AT) and/or Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) Low and High Tech, Speech/Voice, Sign Language, and/or Tactile Sign Language

Yes. All children and young adults, ages 3-21, who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind, including those with additional disabilities, are eligible for evaluation services at Perkins.

You’ll find many helpful materials and stories in the Total Communication section of our Resource Center [link to Total Communication category page]. To learn more, contact us at [email protected] or

Discover how our Total Communication approach can benefit your child at Perkins.

A Total Communication approach is most successful when your child can rely on consistency in how others communicate with him or her.