Tier 2: Fostering Feelings of Connectedness

Two young girls share a snack and friendship.
Two young girls share a snack and friendship.

Humans are social beings; the drive to connect with other humans is “hardwired” into our brains as a driving survival tactic. However, deafblindness and other disabling conditions such as autism can impede the ability to make those connections unless systematically addressed as part of all instruction. Communication, especially the ability to share our stories, is a key factor in building connectedness and developing good mental health.

Develop a communication system that allows for reciprocal communicative interaction

Communication is critical to building trust and relationships, both of which are instrumental in creating confident and engaged children. Whether the child uses behavioral responses, gestures, signals, signs, print, pictures or speech to communicate, communication must be reciprocal. 

That means that we do as much (or more) listening as we do talking. Consider everything the child does or shows interest in doing as a possible topic of communication.  Let him or her know you are interested in what they are trying to share by affirming the topic.  For example, at one level you might do this by imitating the child’s movements or at another level by following them as they pull you to a favorite area or activity then reflect on what usually happens there. (Van Dijk & Nelson, 2001)

Some children with more sophisticated communication systems may be able to tell you about something they did or something they are anxious about doing with spoken words, signs or pictures. Just remember, during these interactions, do not dominate the conversation. Take a turn, make it brief, and then wait for what the child has to share next. By following the child’s conversational lead, you are affirming their communication form as well as their sense of agency. When you listen to them, they feel listened to. Overtime, they will become more confident communicators, assured that people are interested in what they have to say. (Van Dijk & Nelson 2001)

Acknowledge and record meaningful experiences in books or story boxes to share with others

Since the beginning of time, for all human beings, our ability to tell and re-tell our experiences helps us to cope and make sense of what we experience. Creating experience stories is a very important way to help a child who is deafblind or visually and multiply impaired share their interests and feelings with others.

Children may start with a collection of objects kept in a box or bag that are associated with an activity or experience. These objects can be shared and explored with an adult or peer and the appropriate language can be added. As the child’s communication system develops, creating books or even journals about events that are important or impactful helps the child to reflect on the experience and possibly anticipate it, if it is a recurring event. This allows the child to work out and share feelings about the event. It may help them discuss their ability to handle or be successful in a situation with the people who share the event with them.

Build connections through membership in a community

As much as possible, the child who is deafblind or has visual and multiple impairments needs to feel a part of a community.  At first, that community may be only the family. Later, it may extend to specific adults and peers that have daily contact with him.

Three young children who are deafblind sit close together in a red wagon.
Three young children who are deafblind sit close together in a red wagon.

Part of belonging to a community is feeling that you contribute and are valued.  Children with sensory loss and other significant disabilities, just like their peers, find self-fulfillment through contributing and sharing responsibilities.  This can be as simple as putting dirty dishes and utensils in a container to wash, or it can be as involved as making a product and selling it. Being connected comes from taking your part in a turn-taking routine or interaction.

Any child, no matter the severity of their disabilities, can contribute in some way. This helps to build a strong self-identity. Community helps us all know that we are valued as well as supported. Work with your child to plan a party, build a garden, or simply sing and dance in a group.