How Parents and Carers can Assist Early Intervention.

by Sandy Joint.

State Education Adviser for Deafblindness, Education Queensland.

This article is the first of a practical series to promote the early development of infants who are deafblind using a methodology known as Body Signing. Body Signs are a form of tactile signs that can be drawn or made directly onto the body of a child who is deafblind with minimal interference to their hands or the activity they are involved in. The theories, methodology, strategies and curriculum behind body signing are based on activities that promote activities that follow a natural developmental sequence.

Further information and booklets related to this methodology and pictures of associated tactile signs can be obtained from the author. Learning to interact

Every child must know they are loved and wanted.  Secure positive relationships help develop bonds that promote interaction, and form the basis for early communication exchanges.

These bonds first develop through close contact, nurturing and tactile communication such as kisses, cuddles, visual and auditory signals.

With babies the first noticeable form of interaction takes place when they exchange eye contact and smiles with their primary carer i.e., as a result of the parents/carer smiling at the baby, the baby learns to smile, this smile makes both feel good, a dialogue of reciprocal smiles develops and the feeling of communication develops.

Children who are deafblind miss out on these vital forms of early interaction.
From this early stage there is a need to develop a substitute system so the same signalling process can be developed. This can be achieved by:

Interacting with your child helps them understand that they and you are separate entities and can make different actions independently. Interacting also fosters an understanding of relationships between people and objects. To achieve this from an early stage introduce them to their own name and yours (mummy, daddy, etc.) this will help them learn that all people and objects have names.

As their hands are very small and their memory still developing just do a name sign or finger-spell onto their hand the first two letters on their name.  For children who still have a reflex grasp or are at the developmental stage where they do not like their hands being open, bring you arm over to your child so they can make contact with some item you always wear e.g. bracelet or watch.  When they begin to reach out to touch things let your child feel distinctive features of familiar people such as hair, jewellery, moustaches, noses, glasses.

To maximise interaction nurse and play with  your child as many times a day as possible. Playing with your child will help them feel secure because they can feel your body and movements. Play for your child will be a more effective learning tool then isolated work times. Play games such as:

Play finger games and games action rhymes where you can do repetitive movements with your fingers on the child and/or that encourage the child to imitation your actions.  Examples of games include: Play music and sing the songs associated with these rhymes to encourage the use of residual hearing .  If you have no music sing to your child while you do these activities. The tone and rhythm of your voice will aid communication.

By interacting with your child they will:

A child who is deafblind needs to learn how dialogues occur, to recognise patterns with dialogues and how to imitate these patterns. Patterns of interaction can be fostered by doing simple activities that help teach the child to imitate and respond. Play stop and start games while doing the following activities: Please respond

Children who are deafblind need to know you are "listening to them", that you will respond when they communicate.  Their responses however may be different or even appear non-existent, negative, or very subtle and idiosyncratic in a dual sensory loss child. These are some of the first forms of communication dual sensory children may use to communicate:

Learn to respond to these forms of communication by signing back what you think they want or mean combined with gentle squeezes of the hands or other parts of the body, rubs and massages, and imitation of their communication.

Learning to respond will be harder for your child. Do not become discouraged by their lack of response. Your child will respond when they become developmentally "ready".

Respond with simple sentences, which emphasise and repeat words. By repeating words your child will start to associate the activity or experience with the tactile sign they can feel and the parts of words they can hear. This is important because your child has to build up an understanding of what you are saying first before they can learn to communicate.

Sometimes you might find your child clapping their hands together, fiddling with their fingers or pointing/touching part of their hand or body repeatedly. This is a kind of tactile babble.

It is very important to respond to this. Try to use tactile signs that don't interfere with their hand movement in a stop and start game to encourage the responses to continue.


All children regardless of whether they are able or disabled need to hear their name combined with positive comments to know they are wanted and cared for. Positive comments like  "I love you", "who's a clever boy/girl" or "(child's name) beautiful" are some of the initial forms of interaction that occur between a child and the people who first interact with them. Children
who are deafblind need to "hear" these same sentences. Whenever you wish to make contact:

Because of tiny hand and developmental grasp/touch difficulties it may not be possible to fingerspell or manipulate their hands initially for this reason there may need to develop a name sign. Other ways you could assist recognition is by always wearing the same perfume/deodorant that has a distinctive pleasant smell. By doing this you become easier to recognise and build a bond of trust.

When your child is about six months old coactively encourage them to wave goodbye when you say good bye to friends and family. Use the words "bye bye" as this is simpler for them to hear then goodbye.  This will help your child learn how to imitate actions.

Encourage verbal babble by saying sounds like:

close to their face and ear, blow raspberries,  and other funny sounds to get them interested in listening to you. Fingerspell some of these sounds onto them as you go.


Negative behaviours are easily learnt by children who are deafblind. This is largely because they have no way of "seeing or hearing" if you are pleased or annoyed or modelling appropriate behaviour. Children who are deafblind need to learn just like any other child how to recognise the boundaries of socially accepted behaviour from an early age and this can only be learnt if they are told what is good and what is naughty, combined with letting them know if you are happy or displeased with them.

If they do something good please praise them by saying and signing " boy/girl" or "yes, good"  (combine the tactile signs with a  positive smile, and natural gestures that reinforce approval such as gentle squeeze of hand, a little massage) This will help reinforcing if they have done the right thing.

If they do something that is unacceptable, dangerous or that could lead to negative behaviour or mannerism tell them  "no no" or "no naughty", then leave them alone for a few minutes before interacting again. Mannerisms are behaviours such as:

Many or these mannerisms develop because the child cannot communicate, or just for stimulation. Mannerisms listed above are a warning sign that you need to provide more tactile communication and stimulation to stop the boredom, confusion and frustration deafblindness causes. The above are just a few suggestions and ideas.

The next edition of Beacon will focus on strategies to enhance early concept development and language during feeding time. (Sandy Joint's fax number is 07 3393 0994)

This article was published in The newsletter of the Australian DeafBlind Council. Newsletter Number 13,  April 1999.

I would like to thank Bob Segrave the editer of the Beacon Newsletter of the Australian DeafBlind Council for being so kind to give me permission to add this information to my site.
Thanks Mr Bob Segrave.

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