Project SALUTE
Successful Adaptations for Learning to Use Touch Effectively

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A touch made in a consistent manner directly on the body to communicate with a child.


To communicate a variety of purposes (e.g., request, information, praise, greeting). Touch cues may reduce startle or inappropriate behaviors by helping the child anticipate what is about to happen. Touch cues signal the communicator’s intent.


  • Touching one side of the child’s mouth means "Get ready to eat." (direction)

  • Rubbing the child’s right shoulder means "I like that." (praise)

  • Touching the back of the child’s hand means, "Here I am." (greeting)

  • Touching the child’s hair means "I am going to brush your hair." (information)
  1. If a child has a severe neurological impairment, the type and placement of touch must be carefully selected. In most cases, a touch cue that is firm is more effective than a light stroke. The child’s physical and occupational therapist should be consulted.

  2. Touch cues should be easy for the child to discriminate from other physical contact (e.g., when being positioned).


  • Touch cues are easy to develop and do not require formal instruction.

  • The child does not need motor skills to receive touch cues.

  • Touch cues can be individualized for each child.

  • Touch cues support a child’s communication and participation in familiar routines (e.g., a caregiver can give a child a touch cue, then pause and wait for the child to indicate readiness or anticipation of the next step in the routine).


  • The use of touch cues may be uncomfortable for the communication partner and the receiver because of differences in their age, gender, relationship, culture and experiences.

  • Touch cues are limited to receptive communication and in the types of messages that may be conveyed (e.g., letting the child know what is about to happen, providing comfort, providing praise or making a request).

  • Touch cues may not be used consistently or made in the same way by everyone who interacts with the child.

  • Touch cues that are selected poorly or used inappropriately may startle or confuse the child.


Touch Cues represents a synthesis of information from Project SALUTE’s focus groups, National Advisory Committee, staff activities, and a review of relevant literature such as the following bibliography.


          Chen, D. (1999). Beginning communication with infants. In D. Chen (Ed.). Essential elements in early intervention. Visual impairments and multiple disabilities (pp. 337-377). New York: AFB Press.
          Cooley, E. (1987). Getting in touch. [Video]. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
          Durkel, J.C. (1999). Non-verbal communication: Cues, signals and symbols. [On-line].
          Goold, L., & Hummell, J. (1993). Supporting the receptive communication of individuals with significant multiple disabilities: Selective use of touch to enhance comprehension (Monograph Series No. 4). North Rocks, Australia: The Royal New South Wales Institute for Deaf and Blind Children..
          Harrell, L. (1984). Touch the baby: Blind and visually impaired children as patients: Helping them respond to care. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.
          Rowland, C., Schweigert, P. & Prickett, J. (1995). Communication systems, devices, and modes. In K.M. Huebner, J.G. Prickett, T.R.Welch, and E. Joffee (Eds.), Hand in hand: Essentials of communication and orientation and mobility for your students who are deaf-blind (p.p.219-259). New York: American Foundation for the Blind.
          Rowland, C., & Stremel-Campbell, K. (1987). Share and share alike. Conventional gestures to emergent language for learners with sensory impairments. In L. Goetz, D. Guess & K. Stremel-Campbell (Eds.), Innovative program design for individuals with dual sensory impairments. (pp.49-75). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
          SKI*HI Institute. (1993). Using tactile signals and cues [Video]. Logan, UT: HOPE.

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SALUTE is a model demonstration project funded by the U.S. Department of Education grant #H324T990025 to California State University, Northridge from September 1, 1999 to August 30, 2004.