Being a Communication Partner
For children who are deafblind, communication does not occur incidentally. It requires the intervention of a person who has established a relationship with the child; someone the child trusts and enjoys and who knows how to provide information that the child misses due to lack of access. The importance of this communication partner cannot be overstated. This partner must be aware of the elements of a good conversation as well as the different components of communication (form, function, content, and context).
Knowing what is of interest to the child is the first step in having a conversation with him. The partner must know the "topics" that interest the child; whether it is a form of movement, a sound, or a favorite old sock. A conversation is a turn taking interaction. The communication partner must allow ample time for the student to respond. As mothers do with newborn infants, the partner must be able to give communicative intent to whatever the child does. This might be a change in affect, a movement, a change in breathing pattern or some other very subtle response.
Another characteristic of an effective communication partner is knowing how to effectively provide time for the child to process information. "Pause time" during times you expect the child to have a response is a critical factor in facilitating a communication process. Children who are deafblind need additional time to process information. Intervening too soon can sabotage their processing time and send them the message that their response is not needed for the activity to continue or end. A common question is, "How long should I wait?" A very good question indeed, but the answer is "it depends." As you get to know your student, her communication level, and abilities, you will start to be able to gauge how long is long enough. One strategy a teacher mentioned is that she sings through the alphabet in order to help her remember to wait and ensure that she doesn't jump back into the conversation too soon. As your relationship develops with your student, you too will develop strategies that will work with your student. Carnes, S. (2005).
For more information on pause time, see:
The Ever Important Pause - Part 1 in the Summer 2009 Oregon Deafblind Project Newsletter.
The Ever Important Pause - Part 2 in the Fall 2009 Oregon Deafblind Project Newsletter.
The Ever Important Pause - Part 3 in the Winter 2009 Oregon Deafblind Project Newsletter.
The important thing to remember is that you must expect communication in order for communication to occur.