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What skills play a role in helping us learn to communicate?
• Attending is paying attention. Communication depends on each person noticing and focusing on each other. It is important because we have to focus on others before communication can happen. An example is: glancing or smiling at someone who says “Hi”.

• “Cause and Effect” refers to the idea that an action causes a reaction. It is a basic step in development. We know we can cause something to happen with our words or actions. It is important that we realize we can influence our environment. If not, it is hard to see the reason for talking. An example is: saying or signing “more” to get more chips.

• Imitation is being able to copy what someone does or says. This is an important skill in the development of communication. It is a form of early turn taking. If we can’t imitate, we have a tough time learning facial expressions. It is hard to learn words. By imitating, we learn how language works. An example is: saying or signing a word that has just been said.

• Joint Attention means sharing attention with someone. This helps us learn to share a topic in conversation. It is important for social relationships. An example is: You look at the coffee mug and then look at me. I understand and give you a cup of coffee. We are both thinking about coffee. We are sharing our attention to something in the environment.

• Comprehension means how much someone understands. If someone can’t speak it does not mean that they can’t understand. The person can show us what they understand by what they do. For example: if you talk about the snow, do they look out the window? Do they get excited when you mention their favorite restaurant? This a way to see if the person is understanding what we say.

Are these skills prerequisites for AAC?
• No! If someone is breathing, we can work on communication
• But they may help us decide what strategies to use when teaching AAC

Events in February–April 2019

Related Videos

This is a short video showing how an app can help teach cause and effect.

Deepen Your Understanding

These skills do play a role in how we learn. They may influence what strategies we use to support someone learning to communicate.

Attending
Cause and Effect
Imitation
Joint Attention
Comprehension

Don’t love jargon? Let’s break these terms down.

Attending is one of the first skills in development. It is being able paying attention. It starts with the awareness that the infant is separate from the mother, and then the world. The infant learns to focus on others for longer periods of time. This is essential for communication.

Cause and Effect refers to the idea that an action causes a reaction. In terms of human development, learning cause and effect is an important step. It is when we realize that we can have an impact on our environment. Why is this important for communication? Communication is all about having an effect on our listener. Without the knowledge that we can impact the world around us, it is harder to understand the purpose of communicating.

Imitation plays an important role in learning to use a communication system. Imitation is a form of early conversational turn taking. If we can’t imitate our communication partner, we have a tough time learning facial expressions, tone of voice, and sequencing sounds into words. It is by imitating that we pick up the elements of language.

Joint Attention means that we share attention about an object with a communication partner. You look at the coffee mug and then look at me. I understand and give you the cup of coffee. We are sharing our attention to something in the environment. This is kind of like sharing a topic of conversation, but without the words. Put this was, it is easy to see how joint attention is an important skills for having actual conversations. If we just talk at each other, without sharing a topic, we might as well be talking in a vacuum.

Comprehension refers to how much you understand. When someone speaks to you, do you comprehend what they are saying? To be able to comprehend is to be able to receive and “get” a message. We too often assume that someone’s inability to speak means they can’t understand. NO. You cannot know what someone understands, just because they don’t respond in a way that you expect. You can sometimes see how much someone understands by looking at their physical response to what you say. When you talk about the snow, do they look out the window? If asked, will they go get their jacket. Do they get excited when you mention their favorite activity or restaurant?

We too often make assumptions about people with disabilities. These assumptions often start with the words, “They can’t…”. “They can’t” shuts the door to possibility.

Sometimes, we need to look in the mirror. It is necessary to look at our own potential bias and see how it can have a negative impact on those we work with. This is not easy, especially if someone starts from a position of privilege and doesn’t feel the impact of bias on their own life.

We can start by asking ourselves questions. Are we providing equal access to communication tools for people of color? Are we assuming that someone living in poverty won’t receive the resources and support they need to learn to communicate? Do we treat someone differently because they “look” disabled?

Can we learn to look at Communication as a fundamental Human Right, no matter what someone’s apparent abilities? Are we willing to listen? And are we willing to give someone the chance to learn?

Supporting Research