Using imitation with congenitally deafblind adults: Establishing meaningful communication partnerships

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All congenitally deafblind people are potential communication partners. The key question for practitioners is how to help them achieve that potential. Imitation offers a particularly powerful means of doing so because it allows both partners to occupy a joint dyadic space, where the process of repairing the damaged communication partnerships that many deafblind people have been forced to function within throughout their lives can begin. I will first outline a brief history of deafblind education over the last 150 years in order to provide a general account of changes in practice and theory and corresponding impacts on interventions. I will then describe some of the difficulties that congenitally deafblind people face in making contact with and being understood by other people before drawing on both practical examples and theoretical accounts on neonatal imitation to examine four key functions that imitation plays in facilitating communicative exchanges between deafblind individuals and their partners: it attracts attention, it stimulates turn-taking, it allows partners to recognize each other and it reveals the other as ‘just like me’. I will conclude that imitation is simply the starting place for a journey towards a ‘natural’ language for congenitally deafblind people, a language where meanings are jointly negotiated from the actions, gestures and vocalizations that develop between deafblind people and their communication partners. This starting place is the same for congenitally deafblind people as it is for all infants: a companion space where imitation acts a powerful and immediate source of feedback about your value as a fellow human being. Copyright (c) 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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Infant and Child Development,

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