Every communication must use a specific form or forms, have a function, contain "message" content, and occur in a context.
Forms of Communication
Form - how a person communicates and receives communication. It is the behavior used to communicate. Forms include:
- Vocalizations. In this context, this refers to sounds that are not speech or formal language (e.g., cooing, babbling, eeeee, oooo, eyaeyaeya, dadadada). They may convey pleasure, displeasure, curiosity, excitement, and other emotions, or may be a form of self-stimulation too.
- Movement cues and body language. These may range from gross body movements, arm flailing and leg kicking to much more subtle movements such as facial expressions, blinking, lip puckering, fist clenching, toe curling. Under this group, we can also include "non-movement" cues that we call "stilling" - when a child's reaction is to become very still in response to someone or something. Many of these may not be intentional.
- Natural context clues. Examples of this might be: the ringing of a doorbell at a specific time each day, the jingle of car keys to say "Dad's home!", the sound of a whistling kettle or coffee-maker, the cat brushing up against ones legs at mealtime, the rough feel of the driveway after stepping out of a carpeted room, the slope of a ramp - going up is going inside, going down, outside; the rumble of a train going by.
- Touch cues. These are informal cues made on the body, usually to assist a child to anticipate something. Many of these occur naturally. For example, touching under the arms to lift a child "up, up, up". Some touch cues may be child-specific - e.g. rubbing the back of a child's hand to indicate "Hi!", and going palm-to-palm in a 'hi-five' may indicate "bye"; pressing gently on the shoulder to say, "Someone's here!".
- Object cues. These are usually whole objects (e.g., a sippy cup, a plate, keys) and are a truly concrete form of communication. A spoon could represent "eat", keys - a ride in the car, diaper - change diaper, book - library, etc.
- Gestures. These are intentional body movements that convey some distinct meaning - e.g., pointing to something or someone, waving hello or goodbye, shrugging the shoulders, nodding or shaking of the head.
- Photographs. Some children may recognize "familiar" people and things in photographs of them.
- Pictures. If used with children who are deafblind, the simplicity, color, color contrast, size, etc must be considered.
- Line drawings. These are a simplified, two-dimensional versions of photographs or pictures, reduced to outlines of essential elements. Often these have high contrast - black on white or the reverse, black on yellow (to "highlight"), or have bright primary colors. The disadvantage is that these are more "symbolic" than pictures or photographs, even while they are "simpler" to our eyes. This could include commercially available products such as picsyms.
- Miniatures. Small items that look like the large ones - to the "normal" eye. For example, a tiger, a chair, a lemon. However - they may not feel like, smell like, taste like the real thing; and to a child with visual issues, they may not even look like the large real object. So this form should be used ONLY if a child can make the connection - and not because an adult thinks the miniature is "cute".
- Tangible symbols. These are parts of whole objects, textured representations, raised representations (thermoform) etc., that represent items that may previously have been used as object cues. For example, the handle of the sippy cup may represents the cup, a "key" from a windup toy represents the toy, a piece of chain may represent the swing, a card with fuzzy fabric on it represents the family dog, a smooth yellow card represents work time (where a yellow placemat on the table is fixed to the child's place). Note: The Module "Communication Part II" will expand on tangible symbols.
- Visual or Manual Sign. This refers to a sign system, or to American Sign Language (ASL). Fingerspelling is a part of this - and each sign represents a letter of the alphabet.
- Speech. Speech sounds are combined to create language. Babies select speech sounds from a large repertoire of sounds - to put together the language they hear around them - and this becomes their primary language.
- Written words. Words in print on handwriting.
- Braille. Braille is NOT a language. It is a tactile system for forming letters and words. English Braille contains many contractions and short forms, and has rules for usage that must be memorized. Braille is based on a six-dot system and can be used for other languages. Some useful sites on Braille:
It is important to learn about communication forms. Once we recognize the communication we can respond to it and begin shaping it into a more formal or easier to understand form of communication.Hill, C., Stremel, K. & Schutz, R.