What is Communication?
Communication is the exchange of a message between two or more people. Through communication, children can make changes in their world, express wants and needs and make choices. Through communication, you can teach a child to play, to learn about the world, to interact with you to do daily tasks, and to work. NCDB (2008).
Elements of a Good Conversation
Barbara Miles and Marianne Riggio
Good communication can best be thought of as conversation. Conversing with a child who is deafblind can begin with a communication partner who simply notices what the child is paying attention to at the moment and finds a way to let the child know that his or her interest is shared. This is called "mutual attention." If this is a tactile experience, it is known as "mutual tactile attention." Children who are deafblind need conversation partners who know how to have conversations that do not depend exclusively upon sight and hearing and that also do not depend upon language. They need partners who know how to have conversations with their hands, with their bodies, and with touch and movement. They need people willing to interact with them as equal conversational partners.
Observe and listen to Chapters 2-4 of Conversations: A Personal Reflection About Deafblindness by Barbara Miles on the importance of establishing a relationship with the child who is deafblind.
In order to be an effective communication partner, it is important to understand the elements that make a good conversation.
- Mutual respect - the awareness of being respected is crucial to feeling free and confident in the role of conversational partner. This begins with respecting the other person's abilities and focusing on what they can do.
- Emotional comfort - the manner of approaching and initiating conversation with a child who is deafblind needs to let her know that you are willing and desirous of communicating. Touch is the primary way of receiving information for a person who is deafblind and can convey emotion, intention, good will or the lack of these things. Approach the child with sensitivity and position yourself in a way that is non-threatening and friendly. The manner of doing this will be unique for each individual.
- Physical comfort - The physical environment needs to be comfortable and conducive to conversation. Position yourself and the person who is deafblind at eye-level. You may need to consult with a physical or occupational therapist of seating or standing options if the child has physical limitations.
- Conversing in motion - Children with some vision may be highly mobile. Your conversational manner needs to reflect this mobility by sitting or squatting while maintaining eye contact or initiating physical contact.
- Note: When a child is in a wheelchair, and is being moved from one location to another, the people around him will often communicate with one another, but not with him! It's important to plan how to “continue” a conversation with the child while the wheelchair is in motion.
- Topics of mutual interest - discovering the child's preferred topics is crucial to initiating and maintaining conversation. Paying attention to what the child is paying attention to is an important skill. Whatever the child is focused on is a potential topic of conversation.
- Use movement as a conversational topic. Hands, body movement, facial expression, tension and relaxation give clues to the attention and interests of the child. The child's motion itself is likely the focus of the child's attention and is a potential topic of conversation.
- Use objects and tactile experiences as topics - the point when a child who is deafblind becomes interested in an object for its own sake signals an important step in the child's ego development. When the child becomes interested in an object for its own sake, she understands that she is a separate being - separate from other people and from objects.
- Good mutual touch - Mutual touch is the equivalent of pointing at an object. The child needs to know that you are touching the object along with him, and that you are sharing the same topic. Good mutual touch:
- is not controlling.
- allows the child to know that you share the experience of touching the same object along with her.
- does not obstruct the most important parts of the child's own experience of any object that she is touching.
Observe and listen to Chapters 5 and 6 of Conversations: A Personal Reflection About Deafblindness.
- Parallel movement - Exploring objects along with the child as opposed to simply giving objects to the child to explore on his own, is a way to encourage curiosity and enrich conversation.
- Equal participation -
- Taking turns - The equal back-and-forth exchange that is central to communication is a skill that needs to be taught. Pausing often during conversation allows the child to take a turn and draw him out as an involved participant. Pay attention to subtle actions (sounds, gestures, and movement) which may be the child's best attempt at participation.
- Comments rather that directives or questions - overuse of questions and directions may inhibit the natural flow of conversation. Comments serve as language models and can also be cognitive models, exposing the child to different ways of thinking about the world.
- Comfortable pacing - when adjusting the pace of conversation, consider the child's extent of vision and hearing loss, rate of processing information and motor response time. Control the pace of transmitting your message to allow time for the child to receive and interpret your message. Allow sufficient wait time for the child to respond to the communication.
- Access to context - Provide a connection between the child and what is going on in her environment. The child who is young or developmentally young, needs hands-on physical, auditory or visual involvement. Providing natural and appropriate access to language is perhaps the most crucial aspect of giving the child who is deafblind access to her environment. Miles, B. & Riggio, M. (Eds) (1999).
Observe and listen to Chapters 7-9 of Conversations: A Personal Reflection About Deafblindness.