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Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Outreach Programs
www.tsbvi.edu | 512-454-8631| 1100 W. 45th St. | Austin, TX 78756
2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness
Thursday 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM Pre-Conference
Traces and Expressive Communication
Presented by
Bernadette Van Den Tillaart, Deafblind Consultant
[email protected]
and
Gunnar Vege, Senior Advisor,
Signo School and Resource Center in Norway
[email protected]
Developed for
Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired
Texas Deafblind Outreach
Traces and Expressive Communication
Bernadette Van Den Tillaart and Gunnar Vege
Summary
In this pre-conference the presenters illustrate and discuss how impressions leave traces and
create expressions for communication. They offer the participants an approach on how to create
shared tactual experiences and memory traces, acknowledge and recognize the child’s
utterances, and, build reciprocal and expressive symbolic communication.
Experiences leave memory traces. Our body is active and present during the experience but will
not remember every detail. It will remember though some moments that left a strong impression,
such as a particular sensory observation, like a touch or sound; how which body part moved;
comfort or hunger. These moments are always emotionally loaded. Therefore, the experience
will also leave in that memory trace the emotion that was involved, be it frustration, joy or
savoring. These are bodily emotional traces (BET’s).
How can we create these moments of lived life together with a child with deafblindness,
moments that leave significant and meaningful impressions? How can we be part of sustained
shared experiences leaving impressions we find joyful to think about? These sharable moments
can be found in the tactual world, perceived through sensations with and on the body and
hands. The experience may unfold like a narrative with increasing and decreasing emotional
waves. When we succeed in detecting what is sharable, follow the unfolding narrative and let
this become part of our jointly experienced life moments, we may nourish an image of one self
as an "I" whom experienced something together with "YOU".
Traces are in the mind and they are not visible. Yet, being reminded of a previous experience
the child with deafblindness may repeat what he remembered most strongly, a small movement
or sound that carved a mental trace from that previous moment. The sounds and gestures that
emerge from these memory traces give us something important to communicate about together.
When the child initiates this utterance, how can we recognize what the child was thinking of?
How should we respond to his expression? How can the communication partner acknowledge
the utterance of the child? The communication partner who shared the tactile experience carries
the same or similar memory traces himself, and therefore will be able to initiate communication
about the experience in an interesting manner. The expressions of bodily emotional traces are
the foundation for expressive communication development.
As communication partners we need to be and remain interesting, for the child with
deafblindness to be motivated to share experiences, to express what was remembered and to
stay involved in a sustained here-and-now interaction filled with meaning. The approach
discussed and illustrated in this pre-conference fosters thinking, provides new leading to a
continuous growth and development for both the child and the communication partner. We will
pose the question: how can we foster a 'SELF' who would wish and attain a more meaningfully
lived life.... together with you?
2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness Pre-Conference – Traces and Expressive Communication – Van Den Tillaart, B. & Vege, G.
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Story
At the pre-conference, the presenters will show several video fragments. One of the video’s is
about Ingerid. This is a story about Ingerid, her teacher and their process, from the documentary
‘Traces’ (Vege, Franzen Bjartvik, Nafstad et al., 2007).
The film ‘Traces’ is a documentary of the communicative relation between a congenitally
deafblind young woman and her teacher. They succeed in having a conversation about
memories based on shared experiences, and the film displays the way they achieve this.
The young woman, Ingerid, is completely deaf and blind. The communication with her builds on
movement and touch, which is the only modality they have in common. The originally major
difference between Ingerid’s deafblind way of being in this world and the teacher’s seeing and
hearing way of being becomes reduced to an extent that the two may build up a communicative
relation based on Ingerid’s world.
Up to about 14 years old Ingerid had been exposed to simple tactile signs supported by tactile
objects of reference when the teachers tried to communicate with her. At the time the topics for
communication were the activities of daily life. The purpose was to help Ingerid feel more secure
about, have more understanding of and to be able to make choices among these activities.
However, many of the signs and the objects of reference seemed to make no sense to her.
Maybe the activities were not meaningful to her either, or maybe it made not sense to her to talk
about them.
Since then, Ingerid’s teacher has tried to change his approach to communication in a such a
way that it brings more focus to the signs which have their origin in traces from Ingerid’s bodily
way of being in this world – through movement and touch. The film sheds light on the teacher’s
search for those aspects of the event which may be clearly perceived by Ingerid, and which
make enough impression on her to make her attentive to them and make them stick to her mind.
When the teacher sees and feels that a certain impression takes root in Ingerid, he expresses to
Ingerid that he stops at it and he bears in mind that she showed interest for precisely this
aspect. The film shows how the teacher’s interest for what Ingerid is interested in is
communicated to Ingerid, and vice versa.
We see that Ingerid and the teacher both use their hands in ways corresponding to the way
vision is commonly used among hearing and deaf persons in order to establish and maintain
shared attention to an element in the external world. The fact that we establish and maintain
shared attention towards an element in the external world is a fundamental prerequisite for
being able to communicate about it; i.e. we stay with it so that it may be pointed at, be referred
to and be commented on. A dominating topic throughout the film is the establishment of shared
attention towards an element in the external world. We observe that the characteristics of the
elements in the external world (a bookbag, an orange, a plate), to which they both are attentive
to, change. We see that Ingerid at first notices a distinct aspect of a here=and-now event, e.g. a
movement with a certain direction and a certain localization. Afterwards, this distinct movement
may be recognized in the gesture which she presents. Because the teacher noticed how Ingerid
produces her own gestures, he may anew give her the basis for doing so. A focal point in this
approach is to pave the way for Ingerid to make her own gestures so that the two may have
their conversations about her life-world. When both impressions and expressions are precisely
based on what Ingerid experienced and how she experienced things, it is her natural expression
that in cooperation with the teacher is given a form in the dialogue. Ingerid is given a proper
voice. To have a proper voice here means that Ingerid may express her own perspective, her
2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness Pre-Conference – Traces and Expressive Communication – Van Den Tillaart, B. & Vege, G.
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own position, her own orientation and her own conscience about the world seen from the
perspective of a person with congenitally deafblindness.
Ingerid’s congenitally deafblind way of being in this world would have been unintelligible for
persons of a seeing and hearing culture if her particular way of being had not also been a
variation over the fundamental and general human way of being. The bodily gestural expression
is not a phenomenon specific to persons with congenital deafblindness. This statement is
illustrated in the film by the sequence on communication with a hearing and seeing infant. The
association with the infant does not indicate that the communication with children or young
adults who are congenitally deafblind is that of an early step in development, but rather suggest
that we deal with fundamental communicative processes which are shared among human
beings, and which are displayed by the infant in the socially founded process of acquiring a
culturally shared language. We see that the seeing and hearing infant Johanne in her
conversation with her father is actively involved in trying to create a shared focus of attention
and shared meaning in the communication which takes place here and now. However, the topic
of the communication is beyond here and now. Little Johanne is influenced by her father’s
invitation to manifest and share attention towards what is prominent in her mind –the broken
arm of her grandfather- and more precisely the way he holds his arm. Little Johanne shows that
what was important to her was exactly this: the unusual way the arm was tied and immobilized
by the sling.
Closing Comment
In acquisition of language, typical conditions include sharing the focus of attention by
exchanging expressions, such as body movements and gestures referring to a previous
experience, that are emotionally loaded. This does not require competency of the language
used in that culture. In the encounter with the infant it is more or less typical to express one’s
self through movements and body language. For the communication partner, it does not feel
very natural to use mainly movements and body language when encountering older children,
youngsters and adults. Yet, the older child, youngster or adult with congenital deafblindness
may express him or herself through body movements and gestures. The communication partner
may not perceive these movements and touch as meaningful references, may not recognize
that the person with deafblindness expresses thoughts about previous experiences, and
therefore, may not recognize her or his potential to develop language. When this happens, the
person with deafblindness may not have access to the necessary conditions for language
development.
2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness Pre-Conference – Traces and Expressive Communication – Van Den Tillaart, B. & Vege, G.
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Notes:
2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness Pre-Conference – Traces and Expressive Communication – Van Den Tillaart, B. & Vege, G.
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2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness Pre-Conference – Traces and Expressive Communication – Van Den Tillaart, B. & Vege, G.
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Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired
Outreach Programs
Figure 1 TSBVI logo.
Figure 2 IDEAs that Work logo and OSEP disclaimer.
2015 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness Pre-Conference – Traces and Expressive Communication – Van Den Tillaart, B. & Vege, G.
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