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By Craig Axelrod, Teacher Trainer, TSBVI, Texas Deafblind Outreach

Abstract: Educators can have more positive, responsive and reciprocal interactions with their students who are deafblind by learning how to modify their own interactive behaviors and adapt the interactive context. High quality interactions contribute to improved educational outcomes for students with deafblindness.

Key Words: programming, deafblindness, Jan van Dijk, research-based, interaction, behavior, communication, educator-oriented intervention, instructional strategies, video analysis

Part One of this article, which first appeared in the Fall 2004 edition of SEE/HEAR, summarizes research-based conclusions about the importance of high quality interactions with students who are deafblind. From that research, and other resources, Kim Conlin, Tish Smith (communication specialists at TSBVI) and I designed a two-day training for TSBVI educational staff. In Part Two, this educator-oriented training process is described. When it was originally published, in the Winter 2005 edition of SEE/HEAR, four trainings had been facilitated, with four participants in each training. At the time of this revision (February, 2008), seven trainings have been facilitated at TSBVI, and regional trainings in two other Texas cities have also been held.


The Interaction Training Process at TSBVI

When determining who will be invited to participate in interaction training, we consider interested staff who are teaching students with deafblindness and understand the basics of good programming, such as structuring a routine and using a calendar system. They have interactive challenges with their students that we want to address. Staff may also be teaching newer students we want to better understand. The students represent a variety of abilities and needs.


Introduction to the training model:

The educator-oriented learning goals of interaction training are to:

  • Understand the role of high quality interactions in early development
  • Understand the challenges to high quality interactions with children who are deafblind
  • Identify student-specific factors that impact interactions
  • Recognize the components of interaction
  • Analyze the interactions between adults and students who are deafblind
  • Identify and implement intervention strategies that improve the quality of those interactions


Several weeks before interaction training, participants are asked to notice and think about the interactions they have with their students, then bring those observations and questions to the first day of training. As the training progresses, and more is understood about the unique characteristics of deafblind children, interactions with deafblind children in general, and with their students in particular, concerns, goals and possible intervention strategies for improving the quality of those interactions become more refined and specific.

On the first morning of training, after introductions and clarification of the learning goals, information is presented about interaction problems and possibilities of students who are deafblind (as described in Part One). To help exemplify these ideas, participants view and discuss the videotaped interactions between a student and three adults. The three interactions are clearly very different, and the student's abilities also seem to differ. An Interaction Data form is introduced as a tool to help graphically represent those differences.


Interaction data

The Interaction Data form codes these components of an interaction:

    • Description of Turns: Each interactive turn is briefly described. This enables the people coding to quickly match information seen on the video to its corresponding location on the Interaction Data form.
    • Interactive Turns: Each turn is assigned a letter, A-F, based on the six observational categories identified by Rick van Dijk and his colleagues.
      1. Student Initiates: the student's action is directed at the adult in order to influence the adult's behavior
      2. Student Responds: the student responds to the adult
      3. Student Acts Independently or No Response: the student acts without an intent to influence the adult's behavior, or does not respond to the adult
      4. Adult Initiates: the adult's action is directed at the student in order to influence the student's behavior
      5. Adult Responds: the adult responds to the student
      6. Adult Acts Independently or No Response: the adult acts without an intent to influence the student's behavior, or does not respond to the student
    • Connecting Consecutive Turns: Arrows are drawn between "related" consecutive turns, reflecting the duration of an interaction on a particular topic.
    • Interactive Behaviors: Each turn of the student or adult is then assigned one or more numbers, 1-8, corresponding to behaviors that describe the turn's interactive qualities. These interactive behaviors are adapted from the eight core categories of behavior as defined by Marleen Janssen and her colleagues.
      1. Initiatives: starting an interaction or bringing up something new as part of an answer
      2. Confirmation: clear acknowledgement that a partner's action has been noticed and recognized
      3. Answers: a positive or negative response to the partner
      4. Turn Taking: becoming the actor
      5. Turn Giving: allowing or encouraging the partner to become the actor
      6. Attention: focusing on the partner, the content of the interaction, or the individuals and/or objects within the interactive context
      7. Regulation of Intensity of the Interaction: for the student – appropriate or inappropriate interaction; for the educator – waiting while the student regulates intensity, or regulating behaviors that influence the student's intensity (such as proximity to the student [e.g., nearer, further away], pacing [e.g., faster, slower], animation [e.g., facial expression, size of movement], voice [e.g., inflection, volume] and amount or type of touch [e.g., frequency, degree of forcefulness])
      8. Affective Involvement: sharing positive emotions with the partner

    (If during an interactive turn, the student or adult "acts independently or gives "no response," C or F, no interactive behaviors are credited.)


    Interaction Data Form



B is 19 years old and has microcephaly secondary to an encephalocele (a congenital protrusion of the brain through a cranial fissure). He's legally blind with a cortical visual impairment, is suspected of having a hearing loss, and has multiple disabilities that include mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

Coded video fragments from B's three interactions are analyzed, to identify and compare components of the interactions that reflect their different characteristics and result in his varying degrees of interactive competence. This activity also familiarizes participants with the Interaction Data form. Later in the training, they will use the form to code and analyze video fragments of their own interactions.



B and the teacher - stretching on the therapy ball: The teacher talks to B twice in this fragment, but acts independently during the other turns. He prepares to move B, positions him on the therapy ball and stretches parts of his body with no interactive behaviors, no expectation for B to take a turn and no connected turns.


B and the teacher aide - eating lunch: The aide is attentive to B, and waits until he's ready before offering a bite of food. B responds once by accepting the spoon (answering "Yes") and once by rejecting it (answering "No"). When he refuses the food, she confirms his response by putting down the spoon and getting the milk cup. Turns in both of these sequences are connected. She acts independently by wiping his mouth. There is no observed enjoyment (affective involvement) of the interaction.