Developing Early Communication

a student listening to their teacher

When does the communication process start?

Communication process starts at birth. The capacity to communicate is an inborn one. The child stars interacting with his mother or other care givers at birth itself, much before he learns to talk. The mother attends to the child’s cry, makes him comfortable, smiles at him, talks to him in baby language and the child gets attached to her. He starts responding to her in his own little ways and an interaction starts.

The child’s earliest communicative behaviour patterns are preintentional. They are produced unintentionally and he is not aware of their effects. Some of the ways in which the child may communicate in this earliest stage are:

  • Facial Expression
  • Vocalization
  • Change in muscle tone
  • Arm, leg and hand movements

Later, around six months most of the movements, expressions and sounds become intentional. The Child produces them knowingly to achieve something. The examples of intentional communication are:

  • Touching or manipulating others
  • Assuming positions
  • Pointing
  • Vocalizing for attention
  • Pushing things away
  • Smiling when others approach, kissing, hugging
  • Natural gestures
  • Showing aggression (Biting, pinching, throwing things)

As they grow older, they start making use of symbolic language which involves spoken or written language, labels and logos, pictures and three dimensional objects.

In children growing typically, these basic communication skills gets nurtured, groomed or modified and changed incidentally during their interaction with others. Children with visual impairment and additional disabilities (VIAD), on the other hand, do not have the security and motivation to move around and interact with the people and objects in their environment. The information they receive about their environment is also distorted and interferes with their interaction with others. Thus they often remain isolated and passive, and face the challenge of having very little opportunity to acquire communication skills incidentally. They need some kind of intervention in order to be able to connect with their environment successfully. The degree and kind of intervention needed would vary from child to child. With a suitable intervention program, however, all these children can acquire varying degrees of communication skills. The earlier this intervention starts , the easier it is for the child to learn not only in the area of communication but in other areas too as communication provides the basis for all learning.

What are the strategies that promote communication that involves Active Interaction in Early Years?

Communication, as we have seen in the earlier module, is an exchange of ideas, thoughts, information and opinion between two people. It is not just following instruction and answering questions passively. It should involve active participation from both the communication partners. It is, therefore, important to help the child to learn to’ actively interact’ with the objects and people in his environment. The child should be encouraged to:

  • Take turns
  • Make simple choices
  • Initiate and invite
  • Seek or reject something
  • Ask for more
  • Have fun with others when the topic of communication is of his choice

Some of the strategies that might help in developing such interactive communication skills are as follows:

Since it is beneficial to maintain a consistent routine for a child with VIAD, we sometimes make the mistake of being over rigid in the steps we follow during an activity or the way we plan his day. It is important to provide a structured environment to these children. But within the framework of the basic structure, it is always advisable to let the child make some choices, If during the play time, for example, instead of planning by ourselves what he is going to play, we let him choose whether he wants to go on the slide or wants to play with the ball. This will only encourage him to be more expressive about his likes and preferences. Similarly giving choices between two toys, two songs, two stories, two games, or even two food items (keeping the nutrition intake in mind) is always helpful in encouraging the children with more than one disability to be more communicative.

It may not be easy for a child with multiple challenges to express his choices in the beginning. He may need repeated exposure to both the options (a ball or a toy car? A tickle game or a clapping game? A cheese cracker or a chocolate biscuit?) or you may need to present both the options one by one and watch whether he something different- vocalises, moves, looks at, turns towards you, touches the object or touches you or smiles,-when you present one of them. He may express his choice in a very subtle manner – it can be just a faint smile or a mild almost unnoticeable attempt to reach out towards one of them. You , therefore need to very observant and encouraging. Moreover, it is important to help these children explore both the options well- touch, manipulate, smell- if they want, look at it from a suitable distance/ angle- before they are expected to come up with the choice.

If everything is fine and taken care of, then the child will not need to communicate. It is therefore important to create a situation where the child feels the need to initiate an interaction- to ‘ask for’ something or to ’reject’ something or to ask you to give him ‘more’ of something and so on. Some of the ways in which we can create such a situation are given below-

Play is a powerful medium of expression and can be very effectively used for developing interaction and social behaviour among children. Those with disabilities may not access a play environment suitable for them on their own. However, with a little help from us and simple adaptations and modifications made here and there, they too can participate in a variety of age appropriate fun activities.

  1. Bonding

    Bonding is ‘developing relationship’. It implies mutual trust. Social relationships or the need to interact with others is the basis for communication development. When two people trust each other, a relationship develops between them and they start interacting with each other. When the mother picks up the baby in response to her cry and comforts her- the baby instantly trusts the mother, gets attached to her and a relationship begins.

    1. What is Bonding?
    2. Children with Visual Impairment and Additional Disabilities may have difficulty in Establishing Such Spontaneous Relationship in Normal Course. This is Because:
      • Eye contact is difficult to establish due to visual impairment
      • They may not be responding like other children such as, by smiling or vocalizing when the parents try to play or interact with them.
      • The parents may not be able to interpret their unique ways of communicating as for instance, by slightly turning his head away, the child may be trying to focus on the mother while she is talking to him but the mother may think he is disinterested.
    3. How do we help a child with visual impairment and additional disabilities establish emotional bond with people around?
      1. Be Physically close and comforting
        • Hold, touch, cuddle and gently stroke your baby frequently even if there is no visible response for him. There are babies, however, who are sensitive to certain types of touch or who are uncomfortable if touched all the time. Do it the way he tolerates and enjoys.
      2. Go through pleasurable activities together-
        • Keep him in your lap or right in front of you and gently move, rock, sway or throw, catch, dance, jump, swing along with him, singing songs, reciting nursery rhymes or talking in a pleasant tone.
        • Play little body games with him: Tickle games, finger games, clapping games, games which involve touching nose, ears and so on- peek a boo! Or anything that the child enjoys.
      3. Explore the world together-
        • Feel along with him toys/ objects used in the household, functional objects that he uses or other family members use like comb, toothbrush, hair band, watch or jewellery. Help him to go over things with your hands touching his hands without being over constraining.
  2. Imitation and turn taking

    Any social interaction involves give and take between two people. One person starts an interaction and the other person responds. The first person then again does or says something while the other waits for his turn and thus it goes on. So taking turns and waiting for one’s turn is required in all social exchanges. Involving a child in a turn taking game thus teaches him the first rule of conversation. By imitating the child’s behaviour, we attract his attention and invite him to participate in a back and forth game. Imitation thus helps in starting and maintaining a turn taking game.

    It can be done in various ways-

    1. How does imitation and turn taking help?
    2. How do we develop a turn-taking game?
      • Imitating a vocalization pattern –Start a vocal play by imitating the child’s vocalization pattern –when the child says da-da, you also say da-da or if the child clicks his tongue, you also produce the same sound.
      • Imitating a movement pattern like tapping, clapping or shaking etc.
  3. Developing Anticipation

    Anticipation is simply the knowledge of what comes next.

    When the child begins to understand, what is going to happen next, where is he going, Who is going to be with him, What is he going to do and so on, then he is better prepared for the next event. He does not feel threatened when others approach him and is ready to interact with them. Gradually he even starts showing some choices. For example, if he understands that he is going to be fed, he might open his mouth if he is hungry or turn his head away if he does not want food.

    Use Touch/Tactile Cues- Touch or tactile cues are the cues made directly in contact with the child’s body. It involves touching the child’s body in a certain way for a particular activity. Some examples are:

    Things should happen in the same order every day. If every day it is swimming after story time, then the child begins to anticipate swimming. He may even take out his swimming trunk from the cupboard on his own after the story is over.

    We have already talked about tactical cues. We however need to help him learn to use not only the sense of touch but all the other senses too. If the child is consistently given multi sensory experiences and receives sensory cues of different types in the appropriate context,(is exposed to the smell of a flower when he is taken to a garden or to the sound of vessels/pressure cooker while he is in the kitchen at meal time) then he also learns to interpret visual cues, olefactory cues and auditory cues. For instance, the smell of the food in the dining room will tell him that he is going to have his lunch, or the sound of water failing in the bucket will tell him that he is going to have a bath.

    1. What is anticipation
    2. How do we develop anticipation in a child with visual impairment and additional disabilities?
      • A gentle tap on the lips means he is going to have food
      • Stroking the feet means shoes have to be put on.
      • A gentle rub /pressure/tug under the upper arms means he is going to be picked up.
      • A gentle brush down the thigh or a tap on the bottom means diaper change.
    3. Maintain a constant routine
    4. Maintain consistency in physical environment and activity /play area used with the child
      • Keep the furniture and objects in his environment, and his own belongings like shoes, bag , toys the chair/mat that he uses, at the same place. Do not change them frequently.
      • Have fixed areas/corners/rooms for different activities- Such as bathing, eating, playing, sleeping, listening to music and so on. If the child eats at the same place every day, then he would know that he would have food when he is taken there.
    5. Stimulate all his senses
  4. Maintaining a responsive environment

    A child’s environment is responsive when the people around understand his needs and take steps to satisfy them, when they respond to his little gestures and movements appropriately, when they take interest in him and play/talk with him frequently or when they reward him with warmth and praise for slightest achievement, then the child is in responsive environment. If a child with visual impairment and additional disabilities is in such an environment from the beginning, he starts trusting others and feels motivated to interact with them. If on the other hand, he is surrounded by people who are not sensitive to his needs and fail to give him timely help and attention, then he withdraws in his own world, feeling lonely and confused.

    1. What is responsive environment?
  5. Giving Choices

  6. Creating a Need for the Child to Communicate

    • Miss out an important object-give the food but not the spoon or give the empty glass but not the water bottle to pour from.
    • Delay an anticipated activity- take the child to the bathroom but do not start bathing him immediately. Pretending to be busy with something else like cleaning the window or looking in the mirror.
  7. Using play as a medium of communication

This abstract is taken from the book "Creating Learning Opportunities: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Students with Vision Impairment and Additional Disabilities, Including Deafblindness." To learn more or place an order for the book, please contact at infoperkins@gmail.com.