Communication is the exchange of a message between two people. All young children communicate through their behaviors; but by observing others and witnessing the power of their communicative attempts, children with normal vision and hearing learn to use language to make things happen, get things they want, and get information.

Children who are deaf-blind cannot imitate the communication of others, cannot see the consequences of their own communication behaviors, and often have difficulty developing symbolic communication. In order to help these children develop communication skills, families and teachers must become responsive communication partners who recognize and act on any communicative attempts made by the child. They must set up activities so the child has opportunities to communicate and gets immediate rewards for their communicative attempts. They must provide communication in ways the child can perceive and must expect and wait for the child’s response.

Some children who are deaf-blind may learn to communicate with language – speech or sign language, print or braille. Others may use objects, tactile symbols, pictures, or electronic devices to communicate. Some may use gestures, facial expressions and behaviors – but all children communicate. There are many resources available to help professionals and families of children who are deaf-blind assess communication and build responsive environments that teach children the power of communication.

Resources on Communication

The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) has a huge collection of articles on communication:

For families or teachers of young children: Early Interactions With Children Who Are Deaf-Blind is a marvelous place to start.

For help with students who communicate using objects, view the Perkins Webcast on Tangible Symbols.

For help with students who need adaptations to sign language because of their vision loss, read Robbie Blaha’s wonder assessment guide, Assessment of Deafblind Access to Manual Language Systems

The Oregon Deaf-Blind Project has developed a workshop training module on Early Communication

Promoting Learning through Active Interaction (PLAI) —This intervention guide and accompanying video shows caregivers how to become aware of a child’s communicative attempts, use cues and routines to help children anticipate and respond to their daily activities, and develop turn-taking activities that are the building blocks of early communication.

The Communication Matrix — This assessment tool looks at expressive communication skills of young children and older children who have not developed formal communication.  It can be used to develop communication goals and objectives. The on-line version yields a graph and skills list and can generate a communication report. Hard copies are available in two forms, one teachers and one for families.

Communication – A Guide for Teaching Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments — This book by Linda Hagood, discusses communication assessment and intervention strategies.

A Standard Tactile Symbol System: Graphic Language for Individuals who are Blind and Unable to Learn Braille —The Texas School for the Blind developed a system of tactile symbols to represent activities, places, people, emotions, objects and time concepts using different shapes, textures and mounting surfaces. This article describes the system and has a link to the directory of symbols which describes and shows a picture of each symbol.

How do Deaf-Blind People Communicate? —This article from the American Association of the Deaf-Blind shows many different methods used by adults and children who are deaf-blind.