The Path to Symbolism. Practice Perspectives-Highlighting Information on Deaf-Blindness. Number 3Report as inadecuate

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National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness

Language involves the use of symbols in the form of words or signs that allow people to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and needs. Even without formal language, many children who are deaf-blind learn to communicate with gestures and object or picture symbols. Symbolic expression makes it possible to express thoughts and feelings about the future and about experiences that have already happened. It frees children from having to communicate only about things that are happening in the here and now. Although children communicate a great deal through actions and gestures even before they know the meaning of symbols, understanding that symbols have meaning and can be used to represent other things is essential for language development. Because children who are deaf-blind from birth typically lack sufficient vision and hearing to watch and listen to others' communications, their opportunities to learn through observation, imitation, and interaction are often limited. As a result, they often struggle with the transition from presymbolic communication (not involving the use of symbols) to symbolic communication. This publication describes the importance of early communication experiences for the development of symbolic communication in children who are deaf-blind. The publication is based on research and review articles by Susan Bruce (Boston College) and colleagues.

Descriptors: Nonverbal Communication, Deafness, Language Acquisition, Deaf Blind, Symbolic Language, Symbolic Learning, Blindness, Communication Skills, Communication Strategies, Influences, Sign Language, Case Studies, Accessibility (for Disabled), Educational Practices

National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness. Teaching Research Institute Western Oregon University 345 North Monmouth Avenue, Monmouth, OR 97361. Tel: 800-438-9376; Fax: 503-838-8150; e-mail: info[at]; Web site:

Author: Malloy, Peggy


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