University of Edinburgh

Play and Communication for Children with Visual Impairment and Additional Support Needs

Presented on Monday & Tuesday 1 & 2 December 2008

Communication and movement interaction

Theory and Practice
Mary Lee
Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

Communication is the most important thing that a child will ever learn

It gives them:

  • A voice (self-esteem)
  • Some control over their own lives
  • Confidence
  • A social life
  • Respect

Without these, they may develop:

  • Unusual 'challenging' behaviours
  • Withdrawal from the world
  • Learned helplessness

By treating the learner as social and communicative, she/he gradually becomes so. We show the child through our actions that what she/he does has meaning to us. We treat the behaviour as meaningful ... In this way the learner begins to understand that a behaviour can have a shared meaning.
Hewett and Nind (1993)

Starting with the child

  • Offering the right kind of support - responsive not directive
  • Adopting an observational attitude - what motivates the child with visual impairment?
  • Being aware of how children learn in the early developmental stages - concrete experiential learning.

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 parent is not instructing his/her child, he/she takes on the subordinate role by:

  • Reponding (Recognising)
  • Supporting and helping (Adapting and facilitating)
  • Feeding back (Phasing)
  • Encouraging (Elaborating)

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 comlex 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.
Colwyn Trevarthen

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)
  • Volcalisation
  • 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