As parents, communication is the second highest priority for our child after his/her health. Communication is the best gift we can give our children.
Shortly after my son was born, educators told me the importance of communication with him. I mistakenly thought of language - speech or written language as communication. I wondered, "How the heck am I going to teach him to talk when he can't hear, or see written language when he is blind." The situation seemed hopeless and overwhelming so I became paralyzed at the thought of teaching him anything.
For me, the light bulb went on when the term communication was explained. I soon realized I WAS communicating with my son. He knew if I was calm by the gentle way I handled him and he could feel my stress if I handled him in a hurried way. I had to back off the idea of his reading and talking and take one step at a time. First and foremost, he needed to trust me, and that trust was earned through my relaxed breathing and gentle touch when I held him.
I gradually added touch cues and object cues and from this I could see that he was anticipating what would happen next. For example, I would gently lift his shoulders an inch off his crib mattress to indicate picking him up. Over a period of months and constant repetition, he began to smile, knowing that he was about to be picked up. We gradually added basic sign language (more, banana, eat, Mom, Dad) repeating them hundreds of times before seeing any reaction.
Your communication needs to be motivating for your child. Food-related communication can be very motivating, but if not, movement and play can also be motivating. Initially, at least, avoid the use of negative communication like no and bad.
Our kids need a variety of communication methods, depending on their vision loss, hearing loss, physical limitations and other disabilities. OFFER MANY OPTIONS. YOU WILL EVENTUALLY SEE WHAT WORKS BEST. Some examples might be touch cues, objects, pictures, photographs, symbol cards, spoken words, signs, and combinations of any or all of these*.
When determining what communication system will work best, seek out people who can help and look at the systems and study all the options. Work out the BEST system trust your gut, you know best. And get your child into an environment where the chosen communication system is used consistently.
When learning to communicate, start small don't overwhelm yourself thinking you have to master the communication mode immediately. Don't worry about the journey, focus on the first step. Make an attempt to learn one new touch/cue/object/sign each week and gradually increase that to a new one each day. Don't beat yourself up if you aren't hitting the target each day it's like dieting if you have a bad day, tomorrow is a new beginning.
Practice a little bit throughout your day and it will become more and more natural and part of your routine. Practice, practice, practice! Yes, it will feel awkward at first, but hang in there. I can't tell you how many times I cried over this in frustration!
Language/communication brings understanding. Having a mode to communicate and learn will also provide degrees of understanding and independence they will be very small at first, almost unnoticeable, but they will grow. Early days realize the impact recognize you may not see results right away.
Remember - Communication, communication, communication!!! Keep in mind, you are your child's first teacher.
*DB-LINK is the most comprehensive source of information for our children, including all the communication options you will need.
Take care and good luck!
Sally Prouty, Mom to Andrew 28 yrs.