What Can Families Do at Home to Support Their Child’s Communication Skills?
|Listen to Millie Smith’s advice on what families can do at home to support their child’s development of communication skills.|
I am Millie Smith, and I have been working with students with visual impairments for almost 40 years now. For most of that time, I was a teacher and an outreach teacher-trainer at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Millie, what can families do at home to support their child’s development of communication skills?
One of the most important things for parents to do in making their children with visual and multiple impairments good receivers of messages—helping them understand the message given to them by somebody else—is to help them understand the meaning of individual words. When you think about how that skill develops in sighted children, there’s kind of a magic thing that happens in the development of word meanings, and it’s called “Shared Attention.” And what happens for parents who have sighted children—they probably easily can picture this having happened—what happens is that a child will look at something, the communication partner, the parent, is aware that they’re interested in something and so they give them a label for the thing they’re looking at. “Oh! You’re looking at your bottle! Bottle! Bottle!” They label the thing the child is looking at.
And the same thing needs to happen for children who have very limited or no vision. We need to have a shared frame of reference with them as well. We need to be getting them labels for the things that they are paying attention to. The difference is that they aren’t going to be paying attention to it visually. They’re going to be paying attention to it tactilely. And one of the reasons that children with visual and multiple impairments don’t develop word-meaning relationships—they don’t attach the words that they hear to the things that they refer to as well as sighted students do—is that we use a lot of language with the learner whose frame of reference is not visual when they aren’t touching things. So we can talk about the bottle when we’re looking at it, but they aren’t touching it, so it’s not a shared frame of reference for them. What we need to do to make them understand the meaning of words is say words when they are touching things. So when they touch the bottle, that’s when we need to say, “Bottle.” When they’re touching the blanket, that’s when we need to say, “Blanket.” And just be mindful, parents, just be aware that a lot of the time you’re talking about something with your child that you’re looking at, but they’re not touching it. So what you need to change is, pair up the words you’re using with the things they’re touching.