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MedEd Connections Resource Guide: Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/HH)


Boy with hearing aides alongside father

What Are the Communication Modes Available to My Family?

Families have the opportunity to consider and choose a variety of communication modes. Communication mode and language are not the same, although they are two sides of the same coin. Communication mode refers to the means by which language is accessed and conveyed and include spoken language, American Sign Language (ASL), fingerspelling, gesturing, picture symbols, and a host of other options. There is no right or wrong choice of communication mode. Communication is uniquely and intensely personal. Families and the child may change their mode of communication choices as they grow. Families may also choose to combine communication modes. For example, a child might watch an ASL interpreter to have access to spoken English, and then reply with spoken English, or sign language depending on the setting. People may choose to use a different communication mode depending on the situation.

There are three categories of communication modes, manual, spoken, and a combination of both. Manual means that hands, facial expressions, and gestures are used to communicate. Spoken means that listening (typically through hearing assistive technology or HAT) and speaking is used to communicate. Here are some options:

All the above terms are defined on our Glossary of Terms and Acronyms.

When choosing a communication mode, it is important to consider the social, medical, and educational aspects of your child as well as their cognitive ability. Cognitive ability allows for knowing what the child is capable of achieving. This is a place where the connection of medical and educational information will aid in the decision-making process. For example, your child’s audiologist can share information about how your child accesses sound and your child’s teacher can share how your child is communicating either directly or indirectly with their peers in a social setting. When medical and educational professionals share this kind of information, they are better able to provide the best care in the medical setting and the most effective instructional practices in the classroom.