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Activity A: Case Story About a Child With Nonlinguistic Communication - Instructor Guidelines 

The purpose of this activity is for participants to identify different forms and functions of expressive and receptive communication.

Time needed. 5 minutes to explain assignment.

Materials. “Case Story: Paul” and “Communication Chart for Paul” (attached)


  1. Have participants read the attached case story about Paul.
  2. After reading the case story, participants should use the attached communication chart to identify the forms and functions of Paul’s expressive and receptive communication. The communication chart includes a few examples. For each communicative attempt, participants should
  3. Have participants submit their charts to you.
  4. Discuss the activity with the participants in class or via an online discussion.
    • identify the form,
    • the function,
    • whether the communication is expressive or receptive,
    • decide if the communication is appropriate, and
    • if intervention is needed.

Case Story: Paul

Lynda held Paul’s hand as they walked across the parking lot at the preschool. She was so glad that the county had a preschool that would take children with special needs. As new foster parents, Lynda and her husband, Rob, were not sure they would have been able to keep Paul if his social worker hadn’t found a childcare center that would take him 3 days a week. She believed that many of Paul’s behaviors would resolve after he lived in a safe home for a while. Paul came to them after being removed from his biological parents for severe neglect and then moving through four different foster homes in five months. Lynda could sympathize with the previous foster parents; Paul was not an easy child to live with. He bit himself when he was upset, often drawing blood. He preferred to sleep during the day and stay up most of the night. Almost everything he found went directly into his mouth. Paul never spoke, so it was hard to know what he needed or wanted. Watching Paul constantly while also caring for their two elementary-age children was wearing Lynda out.

As they entered the building, Lynda could hear the sounds coming from Paul’s classroom. Children were talking, laughing, and occasionally squealing. A crash made Lynda think some of the children had just knocked down a tower of wooden blocks. The tape player was on, and the sounds of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” were drowning out all the other noises. When Lynda opened the door to the room, the noise level increased, and Paul squeezed Lynda’s hand, moving closer to her. They walked together to his cubby, and Lynda helped him hang up his coat and backpack.

“Hi, Lynda,” said Karen, Paul’s teacher, walking over to them. “And good morning to you, Paul,” she added, bending down to look into Paul’s face. “How are you this morning?”

Paul kept his head down and began to rock gently back and forth.

“Robin,” Karen called to her assistant. “Would you come take Paul to play?”

As Robin and Paul walked together across the room, Paul looked around a little and squinted at some of the children they passed. One little girl waved at Paul, and he continued to stare at her.

“I’m really glad Paul is in my class,” Karen began. “But I don’t always know what to do with him. I’ve never had a child with a visual impairment in my class before, and he doesn’t seem to want to play like the other children. Unless one of the adults is with him, he only wants to sit in the rocking chair by the window.”

“That’s such a surprise,” Lynda responded. “At home, Paul is into everything—he climbs on the furniture, he crawls under the cabinets. He even tries to get out of the yard when we play outside.”

“Here he stays in that rocking chair listening to the tape player almost all day. Then, when they have rest time, he wants to get up and wander around the room. I wish he would use up some of that energy earlier and rest with the other children. His physical therapist is coming with the TVI today. Maybe I’ll ask them for some ideas.”

“I wanted to ask you about the other children in the class,” Lynda said. “Paul’s second birthday is next week and we want to have a party for him next Saturday. Unfortunately, our house isn’t big enough for the whole class, so we were wondering if Paul has any special friends we should be sure to invite.”

“Paul doesn’t really play with the other children. In fact, he usually just ignores them.”

“Oh,” Lynda said, disappointed. “I was hoping he’d really gotten to know some of the kids now that he’s been here a few weeks.”

“I think some of the children would play with him. He just doesn’t seem to know how. When some of the kids try to talk to him, he just ignores them. Even with me and Robin, he usually only does what we ask if we touch him first. Most of the other kids are really starting to talk up a storm, and they’re pretty good about listening to us, but Paul just doesn’t seem to understand that we are trying to tell him something. I know he can hear. He jumps when there is a loud noise, and he’ll stop when he hears his name.”

“You said some of the kids try to play with him. Maybe those would be good kids to invite to his party.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll think about it today and have a list for you when you pick him up.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it. I’ll see you about one.”

Lynda turned to check on Paul one more time as she left, and she saw one of the other boys in the class hand Paul a toy car. Paul brought the car up close to his eyes for a few seconds, then put it down and went back to staring out the window. Lynda sighed and closed the door.


Name ___________________               Date ___________________      

Communication Chart

Form of communication

Function of communication

Expressive (E) or receptive (R)

Appropriate (A) or need intervention (NI)

Bites self

Behavior regulation: expresses frustration



Mouths object

Precursor to joint attention: expresses interest in object


Depends on other developmental levels

Squeezes hand

Behavior regulation/social interaction: expresses discomfort/seeking comfort