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Winter 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Lyn Ayer, Director, Oregon Deafblind Project

This article was originally published in the Oregon Deafblind Project newsletter, in the Summer 2009, Fall 2009, and Winter 2009 issues.

Abstract: The author discusses the importance of “wait time” as a strategy to encourage communication and participation when interacting with individuals with deafblindness or multiple disabilities.

Keywords: deafblind, blind, communication, pause, wait time.

Have you ever thought that our lives are made up of a series of pauses? We need to pause when we cross the street, or do a crossword puzzle, eat or drink, sing or dance - or just THINK. A PAUSE is also a major “tool” to ensure that children with deafblindness or multiple severe disabilities have the opportunity to understand, to respond, and to be motivated to listen.

“Rests” are pauses in a piece of music -and these can vary in length, some being simply take-a-breath-type of pauses. Without these, the music will sound different and will be really difficult to play or sing -like stringing together a wholelotofwordsinonelongsentenceorseveral. Difficult to read or understand! So the “silences” - or pauses - provide meaning and sense. Dance is comprised of movement -and PAUSES between movements. And then we have this button on our equipment – (pause) – and we know how to use it.

With a child who has deafblindness or multiple disablities some of the reasons we need to pause are:

  • To give a child time ADDITIONAL TIME to take in what was “said” in the first place - AND to allow this to happen uninterrupted
  • So that there is time for a response (from the child), no matter how subtle it is
  • To encourage the child to be a part of this “conversation”
  • To find interests in common — and therefore, motivator.
  • So, train yourself. PAUSE!


Have you ever “lost your voice”? It’s a frustrating experience. Here are some of the things that happened to me:

A pause in speech is used to achieve some “effect”. We pause because we are trying to gather our thoughts and match these to what we are saying, or to emphasize a point, or to give listeners a chance to absorb what we are saying. Having a conversation with someone who talks non-stop is not just annoying, but we will probably not understand the communication. We need to think, breathe, leave a gap where another person can “jump in”. We also need to be aware of how to pause in the right place, and how long to pause — since these vary between languages, cultures, or even areas of a country such as the USA.

  • I could not respond when someone addressed me – not in a conventional way
  • I tried to “mouth” words – but most people around me couldn’t lipread – and either misunderstood me, or did not get what I was saying
  • I gestured and waved my arms more than usual – and also attempted to put body language and facial expression to better use
  • I looked for a pen and paper – but found that people around me wouldn’t wait for me to write things down
  • I lost control of many things around me – like checking the kids, sharing with my husband what happened during my day, ordering pizza over the phone
  • Most of all – I found that I wore down the patience of those around me!

Each one of us is so accustomed to running around and doing things quickly, that it becomes difficult to slow down, and to WAIT for someone who cannot keep up. It would have helped if people around me had:

  1. given me more TIME to express what I was trying to express
  2. allowed me to use alternatives and taken the TIME to understand these
  3. Given me TIME to chat – via the written word (inevitably slower… whether hand-written, or on a computer).
  4. Understood the “time = patience” formula!

Transfer what happened to me to a child who is deafblind or has multiple severe disabilities – and you will find that issues are not that different:

  • A child may not have conventional speech or language - but the urge to communicate is embedded in our very being. So - take time to learn how a child communicates - or teach a child how to do this.
  • STOP and watch - and see if you can detect subtle, and not-so-subtle communications - the blink of the eyes, stilling of the body, lift of a single finger, a smile or frown, a bounce or a stomp.
  • A child may have an unconventional system that is being used – objects, pictures, touch cues – and we need to tap into these and make sure we use them – even when it takes more time.
  • Provide the child with more “control” just by waiting for a response to each thing you say – or do. Being able to participate in the give-and-take of a conversation provides satisfaction.


Anyone who has been trained in giving infant and child massage, or instructing parents on how to do this, will know how important pauses are in this routine. Before the routine begins, there is a sequence of events – and pauses:

  • The child learns that s/he is transitioning from what they were doing – to the massage routine. The person tells the child this through voice, sign, gesture, or other cue.
  • This cuing may need a pause after – or even a repetition of the same information, while the child is being moved to the location for massage.
  • Then, from the child’s viewpoint, there is a longer pause – while the massager makes sure that everything is in place – clean sheet or blanket for the floor, massage oil, towels, aromatherapy materials (for some), music (for some). This is “mental” prep time for the child as well!
  • Then the massager “asks permission” of the infant or child. For some children, the massager may just put oil on her hands, rub them together, and be sure the child is aware of her doing his.
  • Another short pause - for the infant or child to process this information and to respond. If the experience has been enjoyable in the past, there will be a response after the pause! Usually it is a “happy” response.

Now for the massage process itself:

  • The first massage stroke incorporates a pause too. The massager places his/her hands on the child’s body and just “rests” there for a second of two.
  • The massage usually begins with one leg – and several different strokes for the one leg. There is a brief pause between each stroke. After all the strokes for the one leg are done, there is another pause while the massager just holds the child’s leg without doing anything. This pause will indicate to the child that that leg is “done” – and the massager will be transitioning to the other leg.
  • The massage continues to the other leg, each arm, abdomen, chest, back, face – and each segment has the same or similar sequence for pausing.
  • When the massage ends, it ends like it began, with the last stroke incorporating a pause – while the massager “rests” his/her hands on the child’s body.

Massage would not be the same – or have the same benefits – if the pauses and rests were not a part of the sequence. It cannot be rushed through. The pauses are really important because of their communicative value as well.


The concept of “wait time” as an instructional variable was invented by Mary Budd Rowe (1972). The “wait-time” periods she found were periods of silence that followed teacher questions and students’ completed responses that rarely lasted more than 1. seconds in typical classrooms. She discovered, however, that when these periods of silence lasted at least seconds, many positive things happened to students’ and teachers’ behaviors and attitudes. Courtesy of Joni Courtney from the Arkansas Deafblind Project. Complete article at: http:// 4.shtml


Build pauses into routines that are “scripted” for the children you work with! This works like a road-map, when you take into consideration the signs along the way that say “stop” or “yield” or something similar. The pauses that are scripted should:

  • Be part of a natural routine—where a pause can become a natural prompt
  • Include an embedded communication routine
  • Involve peers and others
  • Begin with the pause time needed – and be faded to shorter pause times
  • Be motivating to a child – and make him/herfeel included and successful.

Arrival time routine:

Gina gets off bus.

Stacie greets her and pauses.

Gina responds with a lift of her right hand.

Stacie cues her, “Let’s go!”. Pauses.

“Are you ready?” Pause.

Gina rubs wheel of wheelchair to say “OK”.

Stacie pushes wheelchair.

They meet the “greeter” (a classmate) at the door.

Greeter offers a Hi-five. Pauses with hand in position where Gina can reach.

Gina, “Hi-fives” back.

Greeter opens door and Stacie wheels Gina inside.

Stacie turns Gina around to face greeter again and says, “Thank you, Beth”. Pauses.

Gina says “thank you” by hitting her switch.

Stacie takes Gina to the classroom. Pauses at the door.

Gina reaches for “greeting switch” and says “Hello, I’m here” as she goes in.

Gina pauses — and someone in the classroom responds, “Hello Gina!”