3S Communication is a system of communication created for the staff and service users of Homes Caring for Autism . It is based upon three methods of communication

  • Signing
  • Symbols
  • Speech

3S Communication is based mostly on Somerset Total Communication, Makaton and British Sign Language. It was originally devised for use in our Somerset and North Somerset homes where individuals would access colleges which also used Somerset Total Communication (STC). However, it is now also used in our Wiltshire homes. The lives of the people we support are enhanced through links with the community and therefore a ‘common language’ is beneficial.

Pig signing demonstrationThe overall aim of 3S training is to improve the quality of communication between staff and the people we support in a way which is appropriate to them. With effective communication we aim to promote the willingness to express themselves; their wishes and choices, likes and dislikes, concerns, anxieties, and ambitions. We would typically anticipate and expect that good communication will reduce at least some of the frustration and anxieties which might trigger negative behaviours. Speaking, using symbolic representations, and signing, gives a three-way means to communicate and increases the odds of successful communication. For those who can communicate effectively with speech it is not necessary for them to sign, but they can be encouraged to use signing with others in their home who do find it useful. The more frequently we use signing the more confident we become using it; just like practicing a foreign language! The training course is customised for the homes and the people they support, but the overall aim is to provide consistent signing and symbols within each home.

There are three basic modules covering Basic Vocabulary (parts one and two), People and Activities, which every member of staff is expected to access. There are additional modules covering Food, Easter, Medication and Infection Control and Christmas, which we also encourage staff to undertake. Staff are provided with resources to enable practice beyond the initial training session.

The training sessions cover:

Signing: There are corresponding illustrations of how to sign the words as well as discussion about the use of drama, mime, gesturing, facial expression, BSL finger-spelling and preferences for Makaton, STC or Communication Link (a school version of BSL). The 'how to sign' is aimed to give consistency throughout the home and will be practiced through games, 'telling stories' or signing written statements. The use of signing will acknowledge previous learning and the skills of the individuals, recognising their ways of signing and developing their signing vocabulary.

Symbols: Which might be used by the individual: These might be actual objects of reference, photographs, line drawings, Widget symbols, STC symbols, written word or logos.

Speech: There is an emphasis on clear and concise speech, which is totally necessary to accompany signing. In the training sessions staff realise just how confusing our language can be for an individual, and by speaking as they sign they will realise the importance of key words and the limitation of a person'scomprehension.

The 3S training sessions for staff have been operating in-house since 2008. They are updated as required, and work with is being developed continually in order to improve our communication with the people we support.

3S Christmas Training

Our staff from Starbrook, doing some training for 3S (Signing, Symbols and Speech) in preparation for Christmas.

A gift-wrapped box of Christmas items was opened and staff had to sign what the contents were.

A lovely time was had by all, as you can see in the photographs. The response and feedback from all attending was very positive.


Lizzie one of our individuals  from the home in Taunton joined others for a 3S signing activity based upon the theme of Christmas.

The picture shows Lizzie the young lady who retold the Nativity Story so that Shirley (the trainer) could sign the story, and selected the appropriate figures to create the stable scene. Her memory of how to sign was excellent and  her enthusiasm to participate in the activity was so rewarding. Initially Lizzie had been lacking in confidence and nearly didn’t come along to the activity, but afterwards she spent a lot of time demonstrating her knowledge of Christmas signing to the staff working in her home.


Staff Comments and Feedback:

  • "Whole course is very interesting and useful."
  • "The games are very useful because you all join in and help each other, and it was interesting."
  • "Practical; games made you think."
  • "Games are useful."
  • "Using cards to make sentences helps retain information and puts it into a useable context."
  • "Participating in the signing in a relaxed and fun manner."
  • "When playing games it re-enforced the knowledge I have just learnt, we have fun while learning."
  • "Signing comes in handy for staff and service users at."
  • "Having a resources folder for future reference is most useful."

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

This may sound very complicated but it isn’t really!

Augmentative communication means any method of communicating that supplements the ordinary methods of speech and handwriting, where these are impaired. There are times when we all may use aspects of AAC (for example, gesturing across a noisy pub to a friend for a drink, pointing to a picture or gesturing when trying to make yourself understood in a foreign language). Many autistic individuals rely on AAC all the time. Some individuals with autism may be non-verbal. They would, therefore, not use speech as their main means of communication and may have to use special techniques. The idea of augmentative communication is to maximise the abilities the communication impaired person does have, in order to bypass and/or compensate for areas of impaired function. AAC is used in a variety of settings wherever people need to communicate and can enhance an individual’s opportunity to learn and understand, as well as their educational prospects.

Homes Caring for Autism uses AAC on a person centred basis, which means that we use many different forms of AAC, including images on paper, objects of reference, video, iPads and computers. We use whatever interests, motives or captures the attention of the specific individual we are supporting. With recent technological advances and an increasing awareness of the range of communication options open to individuals, the potential is there to provide more and more people with an improved level of communication.

Homes Caring for Autism uses Proloquo2Go, via the iPad, to help give voices to our otherwise non-verbal individuals.