Five Steps of Interaction

Question: How do we seeing-hearing humans apply the natural process of interaction to a conversation that takes place in a tactile-bodily mode? 

A young boy and a young girl who are deafblind look at the image of a bear on a computer and have a conversation.
A young boy and a young girl, who are deafblind, look at the image of a bear on a computer and have a conversation.

In this section, “The Five Steps of Interaction”, we will attempt to define the interaction process. Our belief is that the interaction process is the same for all humans, no matter how well one can see or hear. All humans have the same need for connection with others. No voice is less or more, although some may be expressed differently.  Every human has a voice;  are we listening?

Interaction is a natural part of life for all people. Human interaction begins before we are born and continues for the rest of our lives. If we view our interactions in the context of conversation –  having a clear beginning, middle, and end – we may conclude that the interactive conversation is the first form of routine we learn. 

The term “routine” sometimes has a specific connotation in the field of deafblind education.  We’re using it here to refer to conversational structure. The predictable beginning, middle, and end of a conversation. While the middle may change with the topic and emotion, there must be a back and forth exchange (serve and return) for it to be a conversation. The greeting at the beginning and the goodbye at the end are predictable, thereby creating a type of “routine”.  

We need to feel heard and affirmed by others; share a common language; be responded to through a back and forth exchange of dialogue; have closure on a topic of conversation. We need the ability to process feelings and ideas with others and reminisce about past experiences. These are elements of social interaction. These are the reasons we humans communicate. What happens when the most common elements of human interaction are not visually or auditorily available? How does one learn this basic human process without access to how a conversation looks or sounds?  How do we seeing-hearing, deaf or blind humans apply the natural principles of interaction to a conversation that takes place in a tactile-bodily mode? 

Becoming the Expert Observer

Observation is critical to becoming a good interaction partner. We need to study the nuances of attention – body language, posture, expression, tension, and gaze…  Remember, a deafblind person’s gaze doesn’t just apply to their visual gaze. From a deafblind perspective, it might mean tactile or auditory gaze. Think of where a person’s attention is focused and how they are accessing the thing that draws their attention. 

As we’re observing, our first question to ask is: how is this person accessing the world? Do they have residual hearing or vision? If so, how are they using it? How do they use their sense of touch? Do they like to explore with their fingers and hands, maybe with their mouth? How do they use their body to experience and access the world? Do they have the ability to move their body freely? Do they prefer to lay down to explore and process new information?

How can we hone our observation skills?  Give yourself permission to let go of your agenda; take time to be present in the moment with the child. What do you observe when no one is interacting with them? Observe others interacting with the child and take notes.  Video is another useful tool for observation. There are many subtleties that we might miss while we’re in the moment that are more easily seen when we can go back, slow an interaction down, and look at it multiple times. Discussion with others about what we have each observed can deepen our awareness.

That’s Just Something She Does

Our friend, Paul Hart, shares a story about this process of becoming an expert observer.

Are We Noticing?

As we start to gain an understanding of how the child accesses their world, we want to also gain an awareness of our own behavior. Are we being a good conversationalist? Are we good listeners? Are we noticing when our interaction partner is trying to say something? Are we focused on the child or distracted by people and things occurring around us?  If we are noticing, are we responding in a “voice” that is mutually understood – a common language? If we are too focused on our own agenda and only speaking in our language, the opportunity for engagement and conversation may be missed. Have you ever had the experience of encountering a group of people looking up at a tree or building? You might find yourself standing beside them and looking to see if you can see what they are gazing at. All of this happens without anyone saying a word. We tend to follow a person’s visual gaze. It’s human nature. We need to make an observational leap to recognize and attend to the ways that the person without vision is “gazing”.  Because, when we achieve the first step in becoming the expert observer, we find ourselves noticing. We find ourselves wondering. This opens us to possibilities, which then allows us to offer our attention and interest to the topic at hand. We are available to affirm that we’ve noticed by responding in some way. As we respond, we start the back and forth of the “I talk-you listen – you talk-I listen”, that is a conversation.

Imperative vs. Declarative

As we’re practicing our observation skills, we are typically tempted to interpret what we see.  Observation without immediately drawing conclusions about what is being expressed allows us to remain open to possibilities. Maybe the child is raising her glass of milk in the air while eating breakfast. It is natural that we might interpret this as a request declaring she wants more milk. Imagine though that the child is instead commenting that this glass of milk tastes absolutely fantastic! But, because of our mad dash to the refrigerator for more milk, we may have missed the opportunity to talk about just how great the milk is… So, instead of immediately trying to interpret meaning, try to just observe, notice, and affirm… Where might the conversation lead?

Prioritizing Declarative Communication

Listen to what Paul Hart has to share.  

If everything is interpreted as a request, the possibility of conversation becomes much more limited. As teachers, we often use the imperative, telling our students to do this or that. In the same way, we might interpret the above example of the glass of milk as being the imperative: Give me more milk! If we interpret this same situation as a declarative or statement rather than as a request, then we can share this experience conversationally. 

The Five Components

We believe these are the components that promote quality interaction between individuals that lead to reciprocity and better conversations.

      1. Notice and wonder: We must become the practiced and present, highly-skilled observer. 
      2. Affirmation: We must affirm that we have heard the child.
      3. Name it: We need to co-create a common language.
      4. Serve and return: We need to engage in a pattern of you talk, I listen – –  – I talk, you listen.
      5. Beginnings and endings: We should signal our openness to interaction and acknowledge when it’s time for closure. 
Cup of Coffee

… declarative communication is the kind of communication where someone’s making a comment, expressing an emotion. Maybe they’re talking about what happened yesterday, or that something might happen tomorrow. It’s moving away from the here and now.

Imperative communication is more about imparting knowledge, giving a command, or making a request. This is a cup with Earl Grey tea in it. Can I have a cup of tea? Please make some tea. 

If we presume that everything is imperative and asking for something to happen right here and now; by the time we’ve acknowledged the request and have started to make a cup of tea for the person,  then we have shut down any possibility of talking about it.  We will have already interpreted and acted upon the thing of requesting tea.

Paul Hart

Interview 2019

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