Family Magazine

Ever-more Elusive Communication Circles

By Mmostynthomas @MostynThomasJou

Of course man cannot live on bread alone. He needs to be able to communicate as well, so we know it’s bread that he needs and not the raw plant growing out of the ground.

The older she gets, the more grimly inevitable it becomes that Isobel may never acquire speech. Despite increasing her vocal range all the time, rarely does a word pass her lips. Even when it does, it’s usually either mispronounced or very slow and long drawn out.

Ever-more elusive communication circles

“Well,” a cynic might say, “Isobel has deaf parents. What do you expect?” But that is an insult. We are not anti-speech. Our inability to hear is precisely what compels us to uphold strong communication values. We pride ourselves on being a bilingual (BSL/spoken English) household because we know how much that opens up communication like monolingualism never can. We still sign and speak to Isobel every day, and would never dream of stopping that altogether.

We may have had to work far harder on our speech than our non-disabled, hearing peers, but that is not a reflection of our ability to “read” people. By observing her moods, body language, gestures and facial expressions, we’re already pretty well-tuned in to what Isobel is trying to tell us, thankyou very much. Irrespective of what others say about the “voice,” it is the accompanying non-verbal expression that really sets the tone. Show me a great voice artist, and I’ll show you someone in the studio who is appropriating his body language in order to be so.

So far, Isobel expresses her wants most clearly by pointing or more accurately reaching, usually accompanied by looking. These days she expands on this with games where she shifts her reach so to gain a new word from us: “red fridge,” “cooker,” “books,” “television,” “window,” “sofa,” and so on. In turn, we reverse the order by uttering those words first and waiting for her to reach in the right direction.

We have evidence, too, of Isobel having emotional intelligence. Clutching a piece of muslin in her left hand  - downcast eyes hiding a sly glint – she might appear to wait for us to take it from her. Then – just as we tug – she tightens her grip, kicks excitedly, and lets rip a big belly-laugh: a sign that she’s using her disability to her advantage. Naughty! She does exactly the same when we offer her a finger to hold onto. She clearly knows the power of restricting our signing.

Ever-more elusive communication circles

Actions like that do keep us wondering about Isobel’s cognition. When we get to the end of the book we’ve been reading to her and say “The End,” suddenly she stops kicking and looks aghast. She loves turning the pages of any book, sometimes so much so that we have to run through the story fast.

I got Isobel three Noisy Peekaboo lift-the-flap books for Christmas. She had got ever so excited by the ones PACE used in their sessions, so I knew I’d get my money’s worth out of them. Certainly, the sight of her patting, then holding, the flaps that make the sounds in the book is incredibly pleasing.

Nonetheless, I still worry whether we will ever seal that close bond that good communication between parent and child generates. Not that Isobel doesn’t show her appreciation of my own efforts, of course. Upon collection from a respite session at the local Children’s Centre, I’d bounce in signing, “Hello, beautiful! Did you have lots of fun today?” In response, her face lights up with recognition and delight.

The hardest part, really, is ensuring Isobel has her own say. Most children her age are beginning to assert their independence, usually by refusing to co-operate with a sharp “No!” to their parents. But Isobel doesn’t have that luxury. She’s far too busy trying to co-ordinate her limited signs, so to distinguish “mummy” from “hair” (or, it must be admitted, “dumb”) and “daddy” from “more,” and simply enjoying learning through play.

Ever-more elusive communication circles

We still refuse to abandon BSL as a communication tool for Isobel regardless. Given the response we seem to be getting so far, we believe we’re still on the right track. Indications just are that she may not advance beyond very basic signs.

PACE have been using a PECS (picture exchange communication system) with Isobel in their sessions. Basically this consists of a collection of printed pictures and associated symbols, such as “more” (two black arrows curving out), “stop” (a red hand) and so on – the first step, I think, towards communicating with an iPad in school.

In one exercise that Isobel particularly enjoys – bouncing on a giant inflatable peanut – upon being shown “stop” and “more” on a card by Szilvia, the facilitator, she will often reach for “more.” Last term Szilvia and Isobel put in so much practice with this that nowadays, she will actively search for the card on the floor once they stop bouncing, just so she can ask again for “more.” I want that system set up in our home too: the more communication channels we can establish with Isobel, the better with which to deduce the level of her knowing.

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