University of Edinburgh

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

Presented on Monday & Tuesday 1 & 2 December 2008

Developing expressive gesture

Communication with young people with visual impairment and additional complex learning needs
Mary Lee
Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

Joint attention/shared reference

  • Child sees object and attracts mother's attention
  • Child directs mother's attention to object
  • Object is included

Personal gesture

  • Address 'shared attention' through observation and picking up on vocal/gestural signals
  • Moving twards more symbolic gesture
  • Communicating 'about' should not take over from communicating 'with'
  • Starting point - what is the child thinking about not what does she/he want

In the past, teaching methods relied too much on symbolic communicative systems, viewing communication primarily as a means of delivering messages rather than as a means of people engaging emotionally and psychologically with one another.
Rodbroe and Sourlau (2000)

Developing personal gesture

  • Observation will be all important to determine:
    - how someone is communicating
    - what they are communicating about
  • By responding consistently gestures, movements etc become meaningful

Motivating communication

  • Provide experiences - something to communicate about!
  • Allow time
  • Think in terms of dialogue, not question and answer
  • Create the unexpected
  • Offer opportunities for choice making

Extending communication

  • Conversational (interactive exchanges)
  • Start to bring bjects into an interactive exchange
  • Choice making
  • Sharing activities
  • Recalling shared events (memories)
  • Expressing feelings


Communication is not taught, it develops in cooperation with the child.

We try to be sensitive to the motivations of the child with visual impairment and alter our behaviour/attitudes/assumptions accordingly.

We need to pay attention to how we ourselves communicate, especially at an emotional level, using touch, timing and vocal intonation.