University of Edinburgh

Play and Communication with Pupils with Visual Impairment and Additional Support Needs

Presented on Thursday 7 and Friday 8 December

Communication and movement interaction - Theory and practice

Mary Lee, Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

Building relationships

  • Helping children with MDVI to make sense of their world
  • Offering the right kind of support
  • Taking a different view of teaching

Early developmental levels

  • Sensori-motor period - concrete experiential learning
  • Children learn to know selves first
  • Learn by taking part in social exchanges
  • Parents are not instructing

In ‘mother infant interaction,’ the mother takes on the subordinate role by:

  • Responding
  • Supporting and helping
  • Feeding back
  • Encouraging

Strategies used by the mother


  • Adaptive
  • Facilitative
  • Elaborative
  • Watchful initiation
  • Monitoring control

Colwyn Trevarthen

  • Infants come to life with a ‘sense of self’
  • Babies are born with a mechanism of personality, one sensitive to persons and expressing itself like a person does
  • Infants’ behaviour towards objects is essentially different to their behaviour towards people
  • Social behaviour - a ‘sharing of mental state’

“Both partners express complex purposive impulses in a form that is infectious for the other. It is difficult to perceive any content in the communication except for the exchange itself.”

Interaction and rhythm

  • Mother/infant interaction, is a highly visual skill
  • Parents of children with visual impairment speak of feelings of rejection
  • The infant’s behaviour is also organised in time, based on shared rhythms

Gunilla Preisler
Study of parents of children with visual impairment

  • Skilled in picking up tiny signals, eg; raised eyebrows, opening of the mouth, small shifts of position
  • ‘Dramatise’ these using sound and movement, eg; they might laugh when the baby smiled
  • ‘Making visible’ the baby’s response

Movement interaction develops the child’s basic need to-

  • Make contact with others
  • Build relationships
  • Take control of his environment
  • Communicate

At birth all infants possess an inborn and very strong motivation to communicate

The spontaneous and natural use of:

  • Facial expression
  • Gesture
  • Movement
  • Vocalisation
  • Timing

Movement Interaction
If the child has impaired sight, then the adult can respond by using:

  • Direct physical contact (if accepted)
  • Vocalisation
  • Hand clapping
  • Body sounds

All in the form of shared rhythms

‘Tuning in’
Child gradually realises his actions carry meaning, can make things happen

Particularly important for the child with visual impairment:

  • Fragile grasp of the process of communication
  • Not experienced powerful effect of mutual gaze
  • He has not learnt by observation
  • Vision also provides motivation

Gaining control
The child learns that he can –

  • Take control
  • Initiate

Once the child knows he can initiate and make things happen, then this opens up a world of possibilities.

Inger Rödbroë

“Similarity triggers attention and difference sustains it”

Stages in Non-Verbal Communication

  • Response
  • Anticipation
  • Initiation
  • Reciprocity

Knowledge of these stages can help us to develop our interactions with the child

Strategies used by the child

  • Sounds
  • Movement preferences
  • Rhythm and timing
  • Touch