Speech and Language Characteristics of Deaf Blind Children Research Paper

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Symbolic Communication and Deaf-Blindness: How Children Communicate

Children who are deaf-blind have diverse communication abilities and educational needs. Many have some residual vision and hearing or can use speech. Others are nonverbal or inconsistent in their ability to verbalize (Bennett et al., 1995). Others do not use their sight or hearing to communicate, relying instead on signs and gestures (Miles, 1995). Still others combine the use of signs, speech, and gestures in a total communication approach. Many children who were born with deaf-blindness appear to have no awareness of linguistic symbols and may communicate only through body movements (Goode, 1994); they are described as having a "nonsymbolic" or "presymbolic" level of communication (Siegel-Causey & Wetherby, 1993).

Congenital and Acquired Deaf-Blindness

People who are deaf-blind can be classified into at least two groups: those who are congenitally deaf-blind, who experienced onset before the age of 2 (Munroe, 2001), and those with acquired deaf-blindness, with onset later in life. In a study conducted by Dalby et al. (2009), results showed that there are significant differences between persons with congenital and acquired deaf-blindness. Differences in living arrangements, marital status, communication modes (i.e. The congenital group had greater difficulty with expressive communication), and employment status between the groups are consistent with previous research (Munroe, 2001). Persons with congenital deaf-blindness appear to have multiple challenges, including the functions of communication, social interaction, orientation and mobility, and activities of daily living. Those with acquired deaf- blindness also have a unique set of issues, such as adjusting to their acquired dual sensory impairment and feelings of loneliness.

Importance of Communication

Alvares and Sternberg (1994) defined functional communication as (1) interactive, (2) mediating subsequent events, (3) used effectively in everyday settings with adults and children, (4) achieving material and social outcomes, and (5) progressing to higher levels of efficient and effective communication. A greater ability to communicate has been shown to be the key factor in improving a wide array of skills of young people with deaf-blindness, from making choices, participating in school, forming friendships, engaging in transition planning and gaining acceptance from the family to understanding cultural identity, participating in postsecondary education, and living independently (Bixler, Calvecchio, & Cohan, 1997)

Symbolic Communication

Van Dijk (1967) described the acquisition of symbolic understanding as the "essential problem" of the pre-linguistic stage. Most children who are congenitally deaf-bling are severely delayed in communication development and many will not make the transition from intentional pre-symbolic communication to symbolic language (Mar & Sall, 1994). The achievement of symbolism is significant because it is necessary to linguistic expression and it supports higher cognitive development.

The achievement of symbolic expression is integrally tied to the child's understanding of abstract representations (Park, 1997). Learners who communicate at the symbolic level can communicate about a referent that is not in the current physical or temporal environment. Joint attention is attention that is shared between two people. This is then extended to become joint attention on objects. The child must learn to sustain joint attention on objects, to differentiate objects, before representation of the object will have meaning. Symbolic representation can only be achieved when the child understands the object and that it can be used to represent something else, what DeLoache, Miller, and Rosengen (1997, p. 308) call the "dual representation hypothesis."

Vocalization and Gestures

McCathren (2000) found that the frequency of interactive vocalizations was predictive of later expressive vocabulary. McCathren, Warren, and Yonder (1996) concluded that the frequency of prelinguistic vocalization was predictive of later vocabulary development and the amount of speech produced. Wilcox and Shannon (1998) found that consonantal babbling facilitated speech, while vowel babbling inhibited speech production. Since vocal babbling is correlated with later verbalizations, babbling in gesture or sign is likely to be of equal importance for children who are deaf-blind.

There is a sizable body of literature on the importance of gestures (actions that are produced with the intent to communicate (Bruce, Mann, Jones, & Gavin, 2007)) to language development (Wetherby, Reichle, & Pierce, 1998). Contact gestures are limited to gesturing about something through touch. In contrast, distal gesturers are able to gesture about things that are at a distance. In a study conducted by Bruce et al. (2007), all of the children, regardless of their level of communication, used a variety of gestures and combinations of gestures to express their thoughts. The study further demonstrated that children who are deaf-blind may use a single gesture to express multiple functions. It was concluded that the central role of tactile experiences, including co-active exploration, gesture, and sign language, influences the topography and functions of gestures in children who are congenenitally deaf-blind.

Expressive Communication Forms

Expressive communication (DB-LINK, 2005) involves sending a message to another person to make something happen or stop something that has already happened. Children who are deaf-blind employ the use of many different forms of expressive communication (see Figure 1). When children communicate by recognition, their behaviors indicate an awareness that another person is present. An early form of this type of communication includes facial expressions, which may or may not be purposeful, and are usually indicators of pleasure or displeasure. Examples of this include opening of the mouth to indicate more, or turning away of the head. Another form of recognition communication is vocalizations (The pre-language sounds that a child may make in response), which usually indicate liking or discomfort. Examples include crying, making a gentle "u" sound when rocked, or making a loud "a" sound when music is turned off. Contingency communication is behaviors that are purposeful but not used for intentional communication. These can include body movements and switch control. An example of the use of body movements includes moving one's body when a person starts rocking then stops. Switch control can be used to teach the deaf-blind child cause and effect. Examples of this type of behavior include touching a large plate to turn on a fan or pulling a string to turn on bright lights. Instrumental communication is simple, non-symbolic behaviors that are directed toward another person, with the intent of causing the other person to act. This type of behavior can be directed at a person or an object, but not at both. One type of this behavior is touch person, for instance, a child may touch his mother's hand to indicate they would like more of something. There is also the behavior of manipulating person, which would involve actively pulling the spoon or fork toward one's mouth. The final behavior of instrumental communication is touch object, which involves the child's touching of an object to indicate a choice. Conventional communication includes behaviors that are still non-symbolic, yet coordinated. These behaviors involve extending objects, simple gestures (e.g. waves), pointing, and two/three choice communication, which merely involves an increase in the child's number of choices. Emerging symbolic communication encompasses more abstract communicative behaviors, for example, complex gestures, miniature objects, which can now serve as object cues, and picture and line drawings. Finally, symbolic communication is reached. This type of communication involves the use of manual signs, written words, braille systems, and speech words. But the main thin that differentiates this form of communication from the others, is that it is understood that all of the mentioned behaviors are true symbols.

Figure 1

Expressive Communication Forms

Cognitive Milestones

Finally, there has been a significant amount of research on cognitive milestones that are important to the emergence of symbolic expression and language (Bloom, 1990). Object permanence, cause-effect, 1:1 correspondence, matching/sorting, imitation, and the achievement of symbolic play are often cited as being important to either early word use or first vocabulary. With today's emphasis on education, it is important that we realize the importance of early cognitive milestones. Stremel-Campbell and Matthews (1988) suggested that their direct instruction will significantly enhance a deaf-blind child's overall functioning.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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