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Communication Interactions: It Takes Two

by DB-LINK on Jan 1, 2008
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What is Communication?

Communication is the exchange of a message between two or more people. Everyone communicates in many different ways and for many different reasons.

Communication can be expressive or receptive. Children who are deaf-blind may never learn to talk. However, they can express themselves to you. They can receive the messages you send them.

Through communication, children can make changes in their world. They can express their wants and needs. They can make choices.

Through communication, you can teach your child to play, to learn about the world, to interact with you, to do daily tasks, and to work.

How Can We Increase Communication?

One of the best indicators of a child’s use of effective communication is the rate of communication. What does this mean? The more a child communicates, the better he/she will communicate. How does he communicate more? Children communicate more when they are provided frequent opportunities to communicate. Opportunities to communicate should be included across functional activities and caregiving routines.

Let’s take a look at the functional activities that occur at home or at school. For the younger child, these may be eating, bathing, changing clothes, and playing with a sister or brother. For an older child, these may include swimming, cooking, and working. Providing opportunities and being responsive are two of the most frequent methods to increase a child’s communication.

1. Ask the following questions:
  • How many different people interact with your child or your student in a day?
  • How many interactions occur in teaching an activity?
  • What are the daily activities in which you interact with your child or student?
  • How many opportunities to communicate with you does the child have in different activities? None? One? Five? Ten?
2. Notice your child's actions during functional activities. For example —

Functional Activity-----------------Ways Child May Communicate

Eating-----------------------------Opens mouth for "more."

Drinking---------------------------Extends cup for "more."

Swimming------------------------Raises hand for "out."

Dressing--------------------------Touches Mom for "help."

Working--------------------------Signs "more."

Transitioning---------------------Says, "bye."

  • In what ways is your child communicating with you?
3. Make sure every person who interacts with the child knows how he or she receives and sends messages.

Each child will do this in unique ways. It is necessary to stop, watch the child, and read the message.

  • Does each person take time to watch and listen to the child?
  • Are good records being kept so each caregiver knows what to expect?

Parents and teachers need to work together to do the following:

  • Increase the opportunities the child has to communicate.
  • Increase the different ways in which the child communicates.
  • Increase the different reasons a child has to communicate.
  • Increase the number of people, things, and activities the child communicates about.
  • Increase your attention to support positive communication attempts.

What Can You Do?

In the following material, we will use the name "Lee" to represent an infant, child, or young adult who is deaf-blind. Think of Lee as your child, or as the student in your classroom.

What can you do for Lee to increase his interactive communication?

  1. Interact often with him. Give Lee a chance to understand what you are going to do before you do it. Give Lee a chance to make a choice, or to request "more."
  2. Allow Lee to participate in activities as much as possible.
  3. Make sure Lee has a name sign. This may be the first initial of Lee's name to be worn on Lee's chest.
  4. Make sure that you have a way to identify yourself to him. a) for Sister, her long braids, b) for Dad, his beard, c) for Mom, her rings, d) for teacher, her short hair.
  5. Give Lee an opportunity to communicate with you.
  6. Always communicate to Lee what will happen next or where Lee is being taken before the activity or movement takes place.
  7. Post an actual example of an interaction in your classroom; so that, everyone (peers, buddies, and all service providers) can follow this.

An Example of Communication Interaction for Lee:


  • Approach Lee slowly; let Lee smell or sense your presence.
  • Use Lee's name sign
  • Let Lee know your identification cue, as in Mom's ring.
  • Let Lee know you are going to the car by letting Lee take or feel a set of keys.
  • Have Lee open or close the car door.
  • Let Lee buy something at the store.
  • Help Lee hand the money to the clerk if Lee can't do this by himself.
  • Let Lee know the activity is finished by putting the keys in a box or on a hook.

Use of Effective Comminication ---> Rate of Communication ---> Opportunities to Communicate ---> Supported Communication Attempts

Communication is Worth the Effort


  • Learn the most effective ways to express your messages.
  • Listen and watch in order to receive messages from your child.
  • Give your child practice in receiving and expressing messages
  • Make sure your child's Individual Education Plan contains both receptive and expressive communication objectives.
  • Help your child WANT to communicate. Let your child see that communication gives power.
  • Initially, help your child communicate in the “here and now.”
  • Communication is a critical self determination skill at all ages.

This publication was originally adapted with permission from a publication by the Mississippi Statewide Project for Individuals who are Deaf and Blind and published by DB-LINK: The National Information Clearinghouse on Children Who Are Deaf-Blind in 2000. Revised in 2004, 2008, and 2017.

NCDB : The Research Institute : Western Oregon University : 345 N. Monmouth Ave. : Monmouth, OR 97361
Contact Us: 800-438-9376 | info@nationaldb.org

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