Notice: The Very Present and Highly-Skilled Observer

Question: Do we see the child in front of us as an excellent communication partner? 

As we’ve discussed (Five Steps), noticing where the child’s attention is directed and then joining them is the first step in the interaction process. Observation is an essential part of being a good conversational partner. One must be present and tuned in without having a fixed agenda or preconception.  We must bring a mind full of wonder; “I noticed and I wonder”…  Are we ready to listen and also to speak in a language that all partners are attuned to? 

One person has an interest that another person becomes aware of by noticing a movement, gaze, change of expression or perhaps a vocalization or comment. A person’s interests are often a reflection of their experience of the world they inhabit. The world of the child who is deafblind is very rich from a tactile perspective in a way that those who rely on vision and hearing will never completely understand. It is a different perspective of the world and life’s experiences.

If two people are together sharing a day at the ocean, how might the experience of the seeing-hearing person compare to that of the person who is deafblind? What about a person who is only blind or only deaf compared to a congenitally deafblind child?  What is the vastness of the ocean without being able to see the horizon? Can that vastness be experienced through the sheer power of the waves as they push and pull on our entire body? How might these two people’s experiences of the ocean’s force be expressed as a topic of conversation? Can a common language of the day at the ocean be co-created based on that common experience?

This does not mean we are trying to interpret or provide language about our partner’s experience.  We are simply sharing, observing, and becoming an empathic listener. We try to gain insight into their perspective. We demonstrate respect for our partners by noticing and acknowledging their interest and then joining them in their topic. By doing this we acknowledge who they are as a person and offer affirmation (Step Two). We help them establish a sense of self by actively affirming that we hear their voice and thereby validate them as fellow human beings.

As we think further about noticing and wondering we might also ask ourselves these questions to help us get ready to be fully present, actively engaged conversation partners.

      • What is the intention of our partner? What is the purpose of our interaction? Is it to share information? To obtain information? To make a request or to comment? 
      • Does the child want to share a connection with us simply to make contact with a trusted person?
      • Are we remembering to act as an observer rather than an interpreter, at least initially? 
      • Are we willing to share leadership? Are we willing to follow the lead of the child and let go of our agendas when necessary?
      • Are we open to becoming the learner rather than always being the teacher? (Note: Remember the double-sided zone of proximal development and the awesome abilities of our deafblind conversation partner.)
      • How is the child accessing their environment? What is the lens they experience the world through? 
        • What are the accessibility issues for the child? Have appropriate modifications and accommodations been considered and put in place?
        • Are we present in the moment and tactually accessible to our partner?
        • Is the child able and willing to explore beyond arm’s reach?
        • Is the environment organized so they can move safely and independently? Are materials placed in an organized and predictable manner? Does the child have ample time to tactually explore the environment?
        • Is the child able to use vision and hearing to any degree to support tactual exploration? Is multi-sensory exploration possible?
      • Have we affirmed our partner’s emotions? Note: Things that are interesting almost always have some emotion attached to them. 
      • What is our emotional state?  Are we coming to the conversation from a good, calm place where we are open to discovery and learning?


Young boy and his intervener share the experience of tactually exploring a melon.
Young boy and his intervener share the experience of tactually exploring a melon.

 We must see the child in front of us as an excellent communication partner. Start with the belief that it is so.”

Paul Hart, Sense Scotland


Adopting a “tactile-bodily” lens may be a challenge for people who have been raised in a culture of “no touch” because of social and cultural taboos.  We must move beyond those restrictions in order to be able to enter into a shared tactile-bodily experience.  It is possible to have the intimacy that is associated with physical touch and still to do it in a socially appropriate and respectful way.

Orion and Skyler

Skyler is a very present and highly skilled observer. His interaction with his brother Orion is very natural and unforced. Subtle communication takes place in real-time that we might not notice until the video is slowed down and examined more closely. 

Skyler notices that Orion is pointing to his water bottle –  did you notice that the first time you watched this?

Want to learn more?  Take a deeper dive!