Interaction and Bonding

An adult and a young boy who is deafblind show off their blue tongues after eating popsicles.
An adult and a young boy who is deafblind show off their blue tongues after eating popsicles.

Maybe the most fundamental aspect of communication is based on a child’s bond with their caregiver.

The emotional attachments of young or developmentally young children are shown in their preferences for particular familiar people, their tendency to seek proximity to those people, especially in times of distress, and their ability to use the familiar adults as a secure base from which to explore the environment.

The formation of emotional attachments builds the foundation for later social, emotional and personality development. The type of behavior toddlers show toward familiar adults has some continuity with the social behaviors they will demonstrate later in life.

We strongly encourage you to visit the Deafblind Interaction microsite to learn much more about Interaction and Bonding.

What Makes Good Interactions Possible?

Good interaction becomes possible when the parents or instructor learns how to become child-focused and take the time to allow the child to feel safe engaging with them. To put it in simple terms, adults need to be a good playmate. The instructor must keep in mind a variety of factors that may influence the child’s relationship with the world outside her/himself such as physical and sensory access, overall health and medical history, and familiarity of the people and environment. Specific interaction strategies help us to avoid pitfalls that may sabotage our interactions with our students.

How Can We Develop These Interactions?

We can use strategies that create communicative opportunities tailored to the child’s emotional development. The correct strategies will elicit and eventually shape the child’s communication.

First we must take time to get to know the child. This is best done through observation to determine things like:

    • What does the child like and dislike?
    • What helps the child feel safe?
    • What motivates the child to move or explore the world around him?
    • What can the child do with his body and his senses?

The amount of time needed to adequately observe a child varies. If the child has little or no vision or hearing, has a history of illness or medical procedures, or is new to you or the current environment it may take quite a while. But we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to all future instruction to take this time to observe the child and get to know what motivates him or her. This doesn’t mean you aren’t doing things with the child, but your primary focus is to offer things, people, objects, and experiences to the child to learn more about what she enjoys doing and what skills she already has in place. This is typical of what takes place in an arena assessment. You won’t learn everything you need to know in one day.

You may want to visit the Active Learning Space website to learn about the Phase 1 Offering technique that Dr. Lilli Nielsen suggests as a way to begin to assess a child. You  may also  want to download the Active Learning Materials and Activities Planning Sheet to help you gather information and document your observations.

Imitation strategies teach the child that you see them doing things and think they’re fine things to do. They validate the child as someone who exists apart from their environment and also create the beginnings of interest in the actions of another person. This starts out something like parallel play with a goal of attaining a non-visual form of joint attention.

Turn-taking or beginning interaction strategies reinforce that you see the child doing things, and that you might do something similar and interesting, too. They further encourage the child to reach out and take interest in the actions of another person. Our students must be interested in the actions of other people if they are to learn from them. Also, turn-taking is an early conversational skill. Any of these types of interactions might be referred to as conversations.

There are five steps we have identified in the process of turn-taking interactions:

    1. Notice and wonder: We must become the practiced and present, highly-skilled observer.
    2. Affirmation: We must affirm that we have heard and notice the child and what they are doing.
    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.


Below a video tutorial created by Sara Kitchen, Educational Consultant from TSBVI Outreach Programs that may be helpful to you in learning more about interaction and bonding.

Building Connections:  Interaction strategies for those who teach students with visual and multiple impairments including deafblindness