Your Child: Communication

What do we mean by communication? Our first response may be that communication is the use of words in a formal language structure. But communication is more - much, much more. It is the means by which people connect with their environment and with other people. Communication is the way we reach out to each other; it is the way we "touch" each other. Through communication, we connect in the most meaningful sense of the word. Communication is connection.

~ Barbara Miles & Marianne Riggio, Remarkable Conversations, 1999


What Does Communication Look Like?



Behaviors can be physical movements, sounds, facial expressions, eye gaze that communicate a physical state (e.g., comfort, hunger, sleepy). Care-givers use these behaviors to respond to a child's needs forming the beginnings of communication.


Pre-Symbolic Behaviors

As children move from infancy, behaviors intensify as a means of communication. These behaviors can become unique to the child and will usually be related to how the child feels or be an expression about current experience. Examples are things like crying, cooing, pushing away, smiling, shaking the head, or of mother holding infant


Concrete Symbols

Pictures, drawings, objects, parts of objects, gestures or sounds can be used to communicate about a person, activity, place or thing. These symbols look like, sound like or feel like what they are meant to represent.

These fact sheets from Project SALUTE explain the use of objects and symbols to set up receptive and expressive communication systems.


Abstract Symbols

These are forms of communication that involve speech, manual signs, Braille or print that can be used to communicate intentions and ideas both simple and complex. More developed language skills combine at least two abstract symbols of any type.

photo of adult demonstrating tactile signphoto of adult tactile signing with child

Adapted from C. Rowland., 2004, Communication Matrix: Especially for Parents ( Portland , OR : Design toLearn Projects).

Watch Laci communicate using voice and sign


Resources To Explore

Learning to Communicate: Strategies for Developing Communication with Infants Whose Multiple Disabilities Include Visual Impairment and Hearing Loss.
This article discusses strategies that families and service providers can use for communicating with infants.

Communication Fact Sheets for Parents
A series of 28 fact sheets covering fundamental aspects of communication and language development.

Make it Routine
This article touches on the value and function of routines in teaching early communication skills.

Parent Perspectives on Communication
Parents share their stories about learning to communicate with their child who is deaf-blind.


Communication Tool Box

Early Communication
This training series developed by the Oregon State Deaf-Blind Project focuses on strategies and techniques for developing communication with your child. photo of child playing

Communication Matrix for Parents
A communication skill assessment tool for individuals operating at the earliest stages of communication

Home Talk - A Family Assessment for Children Who are Deaf-Blind
This four part assessment tool is designed for use by parents and care providers to provide a broad picture of a child's skills, special interests, and personality.  Spanish (.pdf)  English (.pdf)

Project Salute
This is an online source of information for the development of tactile learning strategies with children who are deaf-blind.


Print Resources

  • Alsop, Linda, M.Ed. (Ed.) (2002). Understanding Deafblindness: Issues, Perspectives and Strategies. Logan UT : SKI-HI Institute.
    This curriculum for parents, interveners, and service providers covers communication, concept development, vision, hearing, touch, sensory integration, intervention, family issues, physical education, additional disabilities, orientation and mobility, community support, and evaluation. Publisher's web site:
  • Chen, D., & Downing, J.E. (2006). Tactile strategies for children who have visual impairments and multiple disabilities: Promoting communication and learning skills . New York : AFB Press.
    This book is designed to help service providers and family members learn to interact through touch with children who need tactile information to support their learning. Publishers website
  • Miles, Barbara (Ed.) & Riggio, Marianne (Ed.) (1999). Remarkable Conversations: Guide to Developing Meaningful Communication with Children and Young Adults Who are Deafblind. Watertown , MA : Perkins School for the Blind.
    This book is a practical guide for teachers, family members and others who play a critical, direct role in the lives of children who are deafblind. Good communication is emphasized and illustrated with stories that are based on positive, real experiences. Publishers website:

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