Look Who's Talking! 5 Ways to Expand a Young Blind Child's Communication Behaviors

Caregiver and blind child holding hands, and smiling

As children with visual impairments progress in their development of communication and develop verbal behaviors, the meanings of messages are supported by the contexts of the interactions and nonverbal cues, such as gestures. A child who is blind will not see and benefit from those visual cues, and so, may need help in developing these skills. At this stage, selected strategies may be used to expand the child's expressive communication, including the following:

  1. "Up the ante." This means requiring a bit more communication from the child. For example, the caregiver may play dumb by ignoring the child's generalized body movement or reaching to indicate a desire for a cookie. Although the cookie jar is on the table, the caregiver may look perplexed, touch the child, and ask, "What do you want," to encourage the child to vocalize or make a more specific gesture or manual sign. The caregiver may say, "Want cookie," to encourage the child to say nod yes or say, "Cookie."

  2. Use completion prompts. Prompting a child's expressive communication is an important strategy to develop the child's communication skills. One way the early interventionist or other adult can accomplish this is using a completion prompt, that is, pausing and waiting for the child to complete the phrase of a familiar story or song by adding a word or two at the end. For example, "Row, row, row the ______," or "The wheels on the bus go _____."

  3. Create a need for the child to ask for more. Opportunities need to be provided that can cause a child to communicate or make his or her needs or preferences known. For example, the child can deliberately only be given a small amount of food or materials that he or she likes. Giving the child, for instance, a couple of small fish crackers at snack time will tend to encourage a request for more to eat; providing one crayon during a scribbling activity may encourage a request for a different color crayon.

  4. Create a need for the child to request help. Place preferred objects and foods in containers that the child cannot open easily or that are out of the child's reach. The child's motivation to access the materials will encourage him or her to ask for assistance. The adult may demonstrate the spoken word or manual sign for "help" in response to the child's gestures, encourage the child to imitate the request, and then immediately respond to the child's request by putting the item within the child's reach or helping the child open the container.

  5. Make planned mistakes. Allow a child to experience "little problems." An adult can "forget" to provide needed objects in routine situations (such as a cup for juice at snack) to encourage the child to ask for them. The adult may say or sign incorrect words for a familiar story or song, for example, "Twinkle, twinkle little chair" to encourage the child to say or sign the correct word ("star").

These strategies should be used with a responsive, conversational attitude. Care should be taken not to frustrate the child but to provide support for the child to participate in interactions and expand his or her communicative behaviors.

This is an excerpt from the book Essential Elements in Early Intervention: Visual Impairment and Multiple Disabilities, Second Edition, edited by Deborah Chen.

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